Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
A: The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an internationally recognized agreement between nations which establishes a comprehensive set of goals for individual nations to achieve on behalf of their children.
In general, the Convention calls for:
- Freedom from violence, abuse, hazardous employment, exploitation, abduction or sale
- Adequate nutrition
- Free compulsory primary education
- Adequate health care
- Equal treatment regardless of gender, race, or cultural background
- The right to express opinions and freedom of though in matters affecting them
- Safe exposure/access to leisure, play, culture, and art.
Recognizing the special vulnerability of children, all of these goals are expressed with respect to a child's age and evolving capacities - the child's best interests are always the paramount concern. The Convention repeatedly emphasizes the primacy and importance of the role, authority and responsibility of parents and family; it is neutral on abortion; and is consistent with the principles contained in the Bill of Rights.
Q: What is the Convention's status in the United States and globally?
A: As of February 24, 1997, 190 countries have ratified the Convention. The most recent nations to become States Parties to the Convention are Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Switzerland.
The Cook Islands -- which recently ratified the Convention on the national level -- is projected to formally ratify the treaty and submit its instrument of ratification within the next couple of months. The remaining two countries which have not ratified the Convention are Somalia and the United States. Markedly, Somalia currently does not have the governmental capacity to ratify an international treaty at this time.
On February 16, 1995, the United States signed the Convention indicating the nation's intent to consider ratification. The next step is for the President and his advisors to draft a Statement of Reservations, Understandings and Declarations which will be presented with the Convention to the Senate for its "advice and consent." Once Senate consideration is completed in the affirmative, the President will ratify the Convention. As of April 1, 1997, the Convention has not been presented to the Senate.
Q: Why hasn't the United States ratified the Convention: What is holding it up?
A: International treaties undergo extensive examination and scrutiny before they are ratified in the United States. Unfortunately, it can take several years for a treaty to be ratified after it is signed. For example, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide took more than 30 years to be ratified by the United States, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which was signed by the United States 17 years ago, still has not been ratified. Signed by the U.S. just over two years ago, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is relatively early in this process.
Unlike many nations which view implementation of a treaty as a gradual or progressive process, the United States attempts to ensure that all federal and/or state laws meet the standards of the treaty and, if necessary, enact new legislation before giving its consent. This is because the United States takes the position that the text of a human rights treaty itself does not directly become part of U.S. law. This process can take years.
Two "environmental" factors have created obstacles to moving the CRC ahead expeditiously. Due to widespread misconceptions about the Convention's intent and provisions, and a lack of public understanding about how this type of agreement is implemented by our government, the Convention has encountered a notable level of opposition within the Senate and in the public. Until a more favorable political environment can be achieved and greater public support can be attained, further movement on ratification will be difficult.
Q: What are the most common claims made about the Convention by its opposition?
A: Conservative religious organizations including the Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the John Birch Society, the National Center for Home Education, and the Rutherford Institute have spearheaded the efforts in opposition to the Convention.
These organizations have made a significant effort to portray the Convention as a threat. The majority of the oppositions claims stem from unfounded concerns related to national sovereignty, states' rights, and the parent-child relationship.
The most common unfounded concerns voiced by the opposition include:
- The Convention usurps national and state sovereignty
- The Convention undermines parental authority
- The Convention would allow and encourage children to sue parents, join gangs, have abortions,
- The United Nations would dictate how we raise and teach our children
These claims and perceptions are a result of misconceptions, erroneous information, and a lack of understanding about how international human rights treaties are implemented in the United States. Notably, in many cases, the Convention's opponents criticize provisions which were added by the Reagan and Bush Administrations during the drafting process in an effort to reflect the rights American children have under the U.S. Constitution.
These public efforts are reinforced by a number of Senators which oppose ratification of the Convention. Opposition in the Senate is led by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC). Citing his opinion that "the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is incompatible with God-given right and responsibility of parents to raise their children," and that "the Convention has the potential to severely restrict States and the Federal Government in their efforts to protect children and to enhance family life," Senator Helms, along with 26 cosponsors, introduced a Senate Resolution in June 1995 which urged the President to not transmit the Convention to the Foreign Relations Committee (which Helms Chairs) for review. It must be noted, however, that since 1990, five resolutions have also been introduced in Congress which support U.S. ratification of the Convention.
Q: Does the Convention threaten our national sovereignty? Will the United Nations control our laws and children?
A: No. The Convention contains no controlling language or mandates. Moreover, under the supremacy clause of our Constitution, no treaty can "override" our Constitution. The United States has historically regarded treaties such as this Convention to be non-self-executing, which means the Convention can only be implemented through domestic legislation enacted by Congress or state legislatures, in a manner and time-frame determined by our own legislative process. Moreover, the United States can reject or attach clarifying language to any specific provision of the Convention.
Therefore, neither the United Nations nor the Committee on the Rights of the Child would have dominion, power, or enforcement authority over the United States or its citizens. Ultimately, the Convention obligates the Federal Government to make sure that the provisions of the treaty are fulfilled.