Somalia and the United States: The Two Holdouts which have not Ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

CRC

While IFLA is in full swing in Singapore, U.S. delegates there have one distinction from most international counterparts. Their nation has yet to ratify the general, aspirational guidelines for services and policies to improve the lives of young people embodied in the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, an effort to codify the rights and protections afforded children around the world which has become the most universally adopted treaty in existence.

While the United States has signed the CRC (under President Bill Clinton in 1995), and it has ratified the two optional protocols related to children in armed conflict and child trafficking, the CRC itself remains unratified by only the U.S. and Somalia. Some have suggested is reflective of our country’s overall  cautious approach to treaties. But at a moment where basic educational services like libraries in schools are under fire, it seems the continuing lack of support for the Convention signals something about the status of children in the United States, as does the lack of personal efficacy afforded most young people under school reform efforts.

Why should youth services librarians care? Many aspects of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) directly related to library work:

Article 13

1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.

2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

Article 17

States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.

To this end, States Parties shall:

(a) Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29;

(b) Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;

(c) Encourage the production and dissemination of children’s books;

(d) Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;

(e) Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of articles 13 and 18.

Article 29

1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.

2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.

Furthermore, the Children’s Rights Campaign lists potential negative impacts related to the failure of the United States to ratify the CRC:

  • The US Government now lacks any voice in UN discussions about other countries’ implementation of the CRC, or about the interpretation and application of the CRC. This deprives us of a tool to change international policies on children’s rights.
  • The US is held up to ridicule in most of the world as being almost the only country that is not a party to the CRC.
  • Parents and children in the United States are compared unfavorably with those in other countries, because we do not keep relevant statistics or show evidence of observing the standards of the CRC.
  • The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world’s history. Only when it is ratified by the US will it be truly universal.

There is a current White House petition calling for ratification, and the Children’s Rights Campaign offers offers a toolkit of talking points and resources related to the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Let’s join the international community in supporting efforts to improve the lives of young people everywhere.

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