NEW YORK, New York – On November 20, 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a milestone agreement for human rights. This transnational treaty was the first to incorporate the full range of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, which are guaranteed by international law.
Ratified by 193 countries, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history. With the exception of the United States, Somalia, and South Sudan, all members of the United Nations have ratified this document. This treaty effectively protects the rights of people under age 18 in recognition of the special vulnerabilities they face worldwide.
The four core principles of the Convention include non-discrimination, devotion to the best interests of the child, the right to life, survival and development, and respect for the views of the child. Compliance to this treaty is monitored by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is composed of experts from around the world.
All states that have ratified the Convention are required to submit regular reports to this Committee on how the rights are being implemented. The Committee then meets tri-annually in Geneva, Switzerland to examine each report and address its concerns. Once a year, the Committee submits a report to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, which adopts a resolution on the Rights of the Child.
Recent controversy over this Convention surrounds the United States’ failure to ratify the Convention. Former UNICEF Executive Director has argued that this decision undermines US leadership in terms of protecting the world’s young people. She asks, “How can the United States persuasively convince other governments to address sexual exploitation of children or hazardous child labor when those same governments can point to the United States’ failure to ratify the Convention as evidence of US hypocrisy?”
While the US played an active role in the drafting of the Convention, it still has not taken any further steps to ratify it. After signing the treaty on February 16, 1995, the US’s next step is to submit the treaty to the Senate, which must approve it with a two-thirds majority. Given Senate approval, the President can then ratify the treaty. So far, the Convention still has not been presented to the Senate.
Much of the opposition to the ratification of this treaty surrounds unfounded concerns about national sovereignty, states’ rights, and the parent-child relationship. According to Time Magazine, these concerns are rooted in fears of UN interference in US laws and families, especially regarding parental rights. Many human rights organizations argue that these claims are based on misconceptions and a lack of understanding of how international human rights treaties are implemented in the US.
In 2002, The Campaign for US Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a volunteer-driven nonprofit, was founded to combat these misconceptions and push for the ratification of the Convention. Thus far, the organization has made some headway, but much greater support and awareness must be garnered to combat the opposition in the Senate and the public.