The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as Policy and Strategy for Social Work Action in Child Welfare in the United States

By Scherrer, James L. | Social Work, January 2012 | Go to article overview

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as Policy and Strategy for Social Work Action in Child Welfare in the United States


Scherrer, James L., Social Work


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been the most widely accepted international treaty developed by the United Nations. First proposed in 1978 by Poland (which was very active in establishing UNICEF and developing the Declaration on the Rights of the Child), the CNC required ten years of negotiations to reach its final form (Cohen, 2006).

The United States played an active and significant role in these negotiations, introducing seven articles (10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, and 25)--more than any other nation--and providing significant input on the remainder of the 41 substantive articles (Cohen, 2006). In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved the CRC and submitted it to its member nations (United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1990). By the end of 1990, all but a few member nations had ratified the CRC. By 1997, all member nations except the United States and Somalia had ratified the CRC.

The CRC designated the child not only as a person who had the tight to care, but also as a tights holder (Cohen, 2006), one who is entitled to resources from the state, protection from the power of the state, and a reciprocal relationship with others that advances the person's well-being (Lowery, 2007). November 20, 2009 was the 20th anniversary of the passage of the CRC by the United Nations General Assembly and presented an opportunity to review its progress toward ratification in the United States. This article will examine the nature of tights, the intrinsic structure of the CRC, the opposition to it, its benefits to U.S. child welfare systems, and what social work has done in the past and can do in the future to ensure its ratification and its effective implementation.

NATURE OF RIGHTS

Lauren (1998) has argued that the nature of human tights has been espoused in both Western and non-Western thought. He provided examples from ancient Chinese, Jewish, Muslim, and African thought, which he stated contributed to the development of the foundation for current understanding of the nature of these rights. Hood (2001), however, noted that although non-Western thought included guidelines and even rules for how human beings should interact with each other, this thought did not extend to recognition that humans possessed rights inherent to their humanness. Instead non-Western thought discussed obligations a good person had toward aiding those less fortunate. Thus the concept of the nature of human rights is a Western development that non-Western philosophical and religious thought has found to be compatible with their belief systems.

The nature of human rights has been considered in Western thought for centuries. Aristotle first broached the idea that human beings possessed rights that were inherent to their nature. He gave as examples the right to life and the right to burial and noted that these rights stem from the laws of nature. He also discussed political rights, which are the expectations the governed have of their government. These rights are important to the interaction between the people and their government and set principles that governments must follow. A government's failure to respect these political rights would justify the people taking action to change that government (McGrade, 1996; McKeon, 1941; Miller, 1996).

John Locke, in 1690, identified life, liberty, and property as the natural rights possessed by all human beings. He noted that these rights were intrinsic to being human and could not be justly prohibited, countered, or threatened by any form of government (Gough, 2002).

Thomas Jefferson, in 1776, proclaimed equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to be fundamental rights that must be respected by all for all. He also posited that the people had the innate tight to change a government that acted to prohibit the free exercise of those fundamental tights (Garrity, 1966). …

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