Academic journal article Emory Law Journal


Academic journal article Emory Law Journal


Article excerpt


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child1 (CRC) is a landmark in the modern international protection of children's rights. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, its fifty-four articles and two Optional Protocols set out a lengthy catalogue of rights for children. The CRC bans all discrimination against children, including on grounds of their birth status.2 It provides children with rights to life;3 to a name, a social identity, and the care and nurture of both parents;4 to education,5 health care,6 recreation, rest, and play;7 to freedom of association,8 expression,9 thought, conscience, and religion;10 and to freedom from neglect or negligent treatment, from physical and sexual abuse, from cruel and inhumane treatment,11 and from compulsory military service.12 The CRC adds special protections for children who are refugeed, displaced, orphaned, kidnapped, enslaved,13 or addicted;14 for children involuntarily separated from their parents, families, and home communities;15 for children with disabilities;16 and for children drawn into a state's legal system.17

The CRC is not the first modern international statement on children's rights, though it is the most comprehensive. It builds in part on provisions in the 1924 Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child18 and the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child.19 It incorporates and imputes directly to children a number of the rights provisions already set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights20 (UDHR) and elaborated in the twin 1966 covenants on civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.21 And it reflects and confirms a series of other international laws and treaties that facilitate international adoption, immigration, and education, and that prohibit child labor, pornography, prostitution, trafficking, soldiering, and more.22

While not legally binding or self-executing, the CRC highlights the growing global awareness that children-the most voiceless, voteless, and vulnerable human beings on earth-are deserving of "special care and assistance."23 In the course of the twentieth century, political and cultural leaders around the world became increasingly dismayed by the savagery visited on children first by the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and the two world wars, then by waves of civil warfare, crushing poverty, malnutrition, inadequate schools, untreated disease, and horrible cruelty and crime.24 Many nations thus established firm new constitutional and statutory safeguards to protect and support children-and instituted ambitious new education, health-care, and social-welfare programs for children.25 In that context, it was no surprise that almost every nation in the world had ratified the CRC. Only two nations have held out: Somalia, which has no government, and the United States, which has never brought the issue to a Senate ratification vote.26

The American opposition to CRC ratification has long puzzled observers. After all, American human rights lawyers and NGOs were among the principal architects of this instrument and have been among the most forceful advocates for children's rights at home and abroad. Both Presidents Reagan and Bush and their conservative Republican administrations were critical in marshalling reluctant countries to sign on.27 But the United States to date has not done so. When President Clinton pressed the Senate for ratification, he faced such angry and widespread opposition that he eventually backed down. President Obama's tepid statements to date encouraging ratification have been rebuffed with comparable vitriol.28

The principal source of opposition to CRC ratification comes from the socalled Religious Right in America-particularly politically conservative Christians, mostly Evangelicals, but also some Catholics and Orthodox. There are a few other groups, not associated with the Religious Right or political right, who have joined in the opposition to the CRC. …

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