It is difficult to believe how poorly the world treats its children. Persons under the age of 18 number 3 billion--one half of the 6.1 billion individuals on the planet.
* About half of these 3 billion children are desperately poor.
* Over 120 million children--the majority of them girls--never have the chance to receive schooling. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 100 million minors working in jobs that prevent them from ever attending school.
* More than 30 million infants have no access to the most basic immunizations for totally preventable diseases.
* More than 150 million youngsters have been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
In order to correct this dreadful scene, the United Nations in 1990 ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. On Sept. 2, the world will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the ratification. The United Nations committee monitoring the treaty has gathered reports from the 191 signatories; these reports constitute an enormously valuable library on the fate of those 1.5 billion children who live in conditions of degradation, sickness, illiteracy--all conditions that should be forbidden by the basic norms of international law and fundamental human decency.
Reading some of these reports in the recent past, I was jolted by the difference in the way children are treated in Norway compared to Ecuador. In Norway, children starting at age 7 have the legal right to express their views about government decisions that affect them. In Ecuador, children die of hunger. It seems clear that there should be international laws phase out that such shocking differences between a rich nation and a poor one.
Indeed, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was designed to bring about equality among all the children on earth. The convention has diminished some of the indefensible ways by which one half of all of the Earth's children live in appalling conditions. South Africa, for example, has incorporated many elements of the treaty into its constitution, and Brazil has in its government an ombudsman for children. It is the only treaty on human rights to be adopted by all but one of the Earth's sovereign nations.
But the fact remains that about one half of the 3 billion children on Earth are still being denied the basic rights to food, education and health care guaranteed by the acceptance of the treaty by all nations except the United States.
President Reagan and the first President Bush did not support the Convention on …