More Nations Belatedly Heed Children's Rights

Article excerpt

Nov. 20 marks the fifth anniversary of the United Nations' Covenant on the Rights of the Child. More than 160 nations have ratified the treaty in five years - the largest and quickest world response of all the 24 U.N. covenants on human rights.

The covenant means that solemn promises have been made to children that were never made before. The committee to monitor compliance with the covenant is working diligently. Its reports and rebukes have already prompted a wide variety of countries to improve their treatment of children.

International institutions in this century have urged special tenderness for children. The League of Nations issued a declaration on the rights of children in 1924. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 by most of humanity urged in article 25 that there be "special protection for childhood." In 1959, the United Nations agreed to a declaration on the rights of the child.

The covenant put forth five years ago is the result of a worldwide explosion of conscience and caring about the sufferings of children. Humanity somehow seems to have realized that almost 3 billion of the world's 5.6 billion people are children and that they have few rights recognized and guaranteed by world law.

It's as if everyone realized at once that 90 million children are born each year and millions of them, if they survive their first year, will confront deprivations of food, hosing, education and health care. The result has been a legal and moral revolution these past five years. The Holy See hag ratified the convention and is working for its implementation.

The United States helped develop the covenant, but it is embarrassing that America is one of only 19 nations that has not ratified the treaty. The White House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been deluged by allegations from right-wing fundamentalist groups that the covenant is anti-family, that it will give the children the right to sue their parents and that the treaty is somehow subversive. …