By Dr Cesar Chelala
In the 26th year of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Somalia recently became the 195th state party to ratify the convention. As South Sudan is expected to ratify the Convention later his year, the US would be the only country in the world that hasn’t yet ratified the CRC.
The Convention is an internationally recognised agreement among nations which establishes a comprehensive set of goals for individual nations to achieve to improve the lives of their children. Both the Ronald Reagan and the George H.W. Bush administrations played an important role in drafting the treaty, which was signed by the US government in 1995, indicating the nation’s intent to consider its ratification.
The next step, so far unfulfilled by the US, is for the President and his advisors to draft a Statement of Reservations, Understandings and Declarations which will be presented together with the Convention to the Senate for its “advice and consent”. Once the Senate approves the treaty with a two-thirds majority, it goes back to the President who can ratify it. Although President Barack Obama has described the failure of the US to ratify the convention as “embarrassing”, his administration has not yet submitted the Convention to the Senate.
The Convention calls for all children, including those with disabilities, to be free from violence and abuse, and compels governments to provide them with adequate nutrition and health care. At the same time, the Convention demands that children have equal treatment regardless of gender, race or cultural background and have the right to express their opinions and have freedom of thought in matters affecting them.
In addition, the CRC emphasises the primacy and importance of the role, authority and responsibility of parents and family and is consistent with the principles contained in the Bill of Rights. The ratification of the Convention has been endorsed by about a hundred organisations in the US, among them the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Baptist Churches, the American Bar Association, the National Education Association and the Child Welfare League of America.
Given this level of endorsements, why hasn’t the CRC been ratified by the US? The CRC has found a notable degree of opposition within the Senate and in the public. Opposition to this Convention by some religious groups – some of which claim it conflicts with the US Constitution – have played an important role in the non-ratification of the treaty so far.
Several among these groups have portrayed the Convention as a threat to national sovereignty, states’ rights, the child-parent relationship and parental rights. However, as Lawrence S. Wittner, Professor Emeritus of History at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany has said: “Although some current US laws clash with the Convention’s child protection features, most US laws are in line with the Convention.” The US also can reject or attach clarifying language to any specific provision of the Convention.
Regarding the claim that the Convention can override the US Constitution, the Supremacy Law of the US Constitution establishes that no treaty can override the Constitution. In addition, the Convention does not grant any international body enforcement authority over the US or its citizens but only obligates the parties to the Convention to submit periodic reports regarding how the provisions of the treaty are progressing.
Regarding the issue of parental discipline and discipline in the schools some parents have expressed concern that the Convention will eliminate parents’ rights to discipline their children. Rather than doing that, however, the Convention states that children should be protected from all forms of mental or physical violence and maltreatment.
Because of widespread conservative opposition to the Convention it is unlikely that President Obama will send it to the Senate for consideration. As a result, the US will continue to be at odds with the rest of the world regarding children’s basic rights. It will also erode the world’s perception of US morality with regard to its most vulnerable citizens.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant who has conducted health-related missions in over 50 countries worldwide. He is also a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.