The United States' Problem with Children's Rights

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a multilateral human rights treaty that promotes the rights of all children worldwide. It defines a child as any human being under the age of 18 and calls on state parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure that children’s rights are protected. The CRC contains 54 articles that set basic rights of all children which include: the right to survival; the right to develop to the fullest potential; the right to protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation and the right to participate in family, cultural and social life. Since 1989, 193 nations have become state parties to the CRC, including countries with dubious human rights records such as Rwanda, North Korea and Pakistan. While the CRC is the most widely accepted human rights treaty of all United Nations member states, not all the signatories have ratified this treaty. Three countries have yet to ratify the CRC: Somalia, South Sudan and the United States.

Somalia and South Sudan are both fragile states, with very volatile recent histories. Somalia has been in a state of political uncertainty for the past two decades with no central government to ratify international treaties. The young state of South Sudan is still relatively unstable with daily violent clashes with Sudan. Yet the United States, which is arguably one of the most politically stable countries in the world, has either been unwilling or unable to ratify the CRC in over 20 years.

The United States was a leader in drafting the CRC during the Reagan and Clinton administrations and signed the CRC in early 1995. In order to ratify the CRC, the Clinton administration should have submitted the treaty for Senate approval. Yet in the 17 years since the United States signed the CRC, the treaty has never once been submitted to the Senate for ratification. In fact, the CRC has become a very contentious issue both domestically and internationally for the United States.

Opponents to the CRC believe that ratifying the CRC, will allow the United Nations to undermine United States laws. Some of the more conservative groups such as ParentalRights.org, assert that “under international law, the treaty [CRC] overrides even our Constitution.” While the CRC does appoint 18 committee members to monitor state compliance with the treaty, it does not have any enforcement authority either independently or through the United Nations. As a country deeply concerned and embedded with international human rights, it is baffling that the United States has never ratified the CRC.

On May 25, 2000, the United Nations adopted two Optional Protocols to the CRC. The Sex Trafficking Protocol addresses the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and The Child Soldier Protocol establishes 18 as the age for compulsory recruitment into armed forces, but allows for voluntary recruitment at age 16. Like many of its powerful allies, the United States ratified both protocols—it would simply be bad politics to oppose an international protocol that abolishes the worst forms of child abuse. While Human Trafficking Search applauds the United States for taking steps to abolish child sex trafficking and child soldiers, we strongly encourage the Obama Administration to present the CRC to the Senate, ratify the treaty and end child exploitation.

To become involved or for more information on the CRC please visit The Campaign for US Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.