In recent news, Somalia became the 195th country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49845#.VMqDdLDwuM8). The CRC is the most widely ratified international human rights document in history and was officially adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1989 (http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx). This landmark treaty includes the promises of civil, political, social, economic, cultural rights and freedoms, including the right to health and healthcare, education, leisure and cultural activities, and numerous special protection measures for children. When a country ratifies a UN convention like the CRC, it can be held accountable by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRC/Pages/CRCIndex.aspx) to its terms. Countries then use the treaty as a measure to assess and also improve its policies and programs to better support children and their families.
To date, there are just two UN member nations who have not yet ratified the CRC – South Sudan and the United States of America. It should be noted, however, that South Sudan only became an independent country and joined the UN less than five years ago and it has since passed a bill to move toward ratification (http://www.unicef.org/southsudan/media_ratification-CRC.html). While the United States was one of the primary contributors toward drafting this document, it has never made efforts toward ratifying it. Soon, the United States will be the only UN member country who has not ratified this child and family focused human rights treaty. The only one! Years ago while campaigning, President Obama said this was embarrassing and that he would review this, but there’s been no momentum toward doing so.
Why should we care?
The U.S. is a world leader and what we do affects other countries. Ratifying the CRC would send a strong message across the globe that children’s rights should be primary. Also, how can we promote children’s rights in other countries when we have not yet made this commitment?
This documents clearly enumerates the many human rights specifically relevant and meaningful to children. At a national level, ratification of the CRC can be used to help strengthen families’ and children’s human rights within our own country. Using just one example from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24 of the treaty recognizes “the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health,” “to diminish infant and child mortality; to combat disease and malnutrition,” through the provision of adequate nutritious foods,” “taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;” “to ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;” “to have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, to develop preventative health care…”
This article refers to a basic foundation required for children to be raised in an environment that protects their dignity and supports their physical, mental and emotional growth and potential. Yet, from birth, the United States violates children’s human rights and fails its children and their families.
Research shows that infant mortality rate (IMR) is valid indicator of the overall health of a nation (http://jech.bmj.com/content/57/5/344.long#ref-2). According to a CDC report, the United States ranked behind 25 other countries in IMR (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr63/nvsr63_05.pdf; this, despite the fact that we spend more money per person than any other country on healthcare costs (http://kff.org/global-indicator/health-expenditure-per-capita/).
Sadly, we do lead the world in many things that violate the human rights of our children, such as:
- Production of GMO crops (http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/43/executivesummary/) and relatedly,
- Exposure to Glyphosate (the world’s #1 pesticide/herbicide) (http://www.momsacrossamerica.com/glyphosate_testing_results)
- Global Warming Contributions (http://berc.berkeley.edu/ranking-global-warming-contributions-by-country/)
- Youth Offenders Servings Life Sentences Without the Possibility of Parole (http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_Life%20Goes%20On%202013.pdf)
- Relative Child Poverty Rates Among Economically Advanced Countries (http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc10_eng.pdf)
It’s time for us to rethink the United States’ record on human rights, especially when it comes to children and families. Establishing a commitment to the ratification of the CRC would be a step toward doing so. We must remember that the articles within the CRC layout “human rights,” not needs or wants or ideals. Using a rights-based perspective is a more powerful way to engage individuals, groups, communities, and even governments to increase accountability and force change. A human-rights approach empowers children, parents, families, and communities to better understand, advocate, and demand their rights be realized.
You can join the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC (http://www.childrightscampaign.org/) and the sign its petition asking President Obama to send the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the U.S. Senate for ratification: http://www.childrightscampaign.org/take-action/ask-the-president/petition .
by Rebecca McCloskey, MSW, LCSW
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