UN CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I appreciate having the benefit of your view on this matter.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is an important international treaty which sets minimum standards for the civil, economic, and political rights of children. It recognizes children as people with unique needs, and acknowledges the central role of families in their development. By adopting it, societies representing differing ethnic groups and political systems agree that children are entitled to basic medical care, protection from abuse and exploitation, development through education, and the opportunity to participate in society free from discrimination. Many of these protections are already guaranteed in the US Constitution, state or federal law, or other treaties the US has already ratified. There has been a lot of misinformation distributed by various groups opposed to US ratification of the Convention, so I especially appreciate the opportunity to share my perspective with you.
The Convention repeatedly stresses the central importance of the family in a child’s life, and defines the family as the primary unit of human relations. For example, it requires states to "respect the responsibilities, rights and duties parents or the members of the extended family" to provide guidance and direction to their children in all aspects of the Convention.
In general, governments, not individual citizens, are bound by the Convention’s provisions. For example, when the Convention speaks of a child’s right to freedom of religion, it means that the government cannot impose restrictions on the child and his or her family to exercise their freedom of religion. Despite the charges of some critics, the Convention does not empower children to join gangs or cults against their parents’ wishes, and does not give children new rights to sue their parents.
The Convention requires that all signatories provide free and compulsory primary education as in all 50 US states. The Convention also states that this requirement should not be "construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions...." The right of parents to send their children to private schools, or to home-school their children, is not abridged under the Convention.
The Convention takes no position on the issue of abortion. Each nation which signs this document will still form public policy on abortion through its own national legislative and judicial processes. In fact, the Philippines and Ireland, both of which have very strict abortion laws, have already ratified the Convention.
While the US has an elaborate system of laws already in place to protect children against serious abuses such as forced labor or physical abuse, many countries do not have laws prohibiting these practices, and the exploitation of children continues today in many parts of the world. The Convention, and the organization which will oversee its implementation, will press all nations to protect their children in ways similar to the protections we provide children in the United States. Much progress has already been made in several countries around the world because of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and US participation in this treaty would help to promote further progress.
The Convention is designed to establish a useful framework and set clear guidelines by which legislators, officials at all levels of government, and private organizations and individuals can form policies and programs to improve the lives of our children. US ratification would also help to improve the plight of children overseas by giving the US the opportunity to participate in the international body set up to monitor the Convention, therefore enabling us to influence UN policy on this important matter.
In 1989 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although over 140 other countries ratified or pledged to ratify the convention, the Bush Administration refused to sign it. The Clinton Administration recently did sign the treaty, and is preparing it for submission to the Senate for ratification.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet scheduled hearings to review the Convention, and no congressional action is expected in the near future. I do believe, however, that prompt action by the Senate would firmly recommit our nation to the principle that children’s needs should be a priority. If reservations or understandings are needed to clarify the impact of certain provisions on US law, I would be willing to consider them. Especially in the face of widespread misunderstandings about the application of certain of its provisions by some here in the US, such clarification may prove useful.
Again, thank you for contacting me. I hope that you will continue to let me know about matters that concern you.
Senator Paul David Wellstone
United States Senator
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-2303