The U.S. and the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Young people must be included from birth.
A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline.
– Kofi Anan

Today I am reeling from an article written by Paula Reid, a member of The Students Commission in Canada. For more than 25 years the Commission and their magazine, Tiny Giant, has been calling on the Canadian government and society to bring youth voice into the mainstream and to make youth involvement an expectation for all youth. Paula’s article, published today in the Toronto Star, is a brash indictment of the Parliament’s failure to make any real progress after signing the international Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) more than 18 years ago.

Paula pounds away at the government:

“It’s ironic that just a few weeks ago the federal government was forced to respond to a report condemning its failures toward Canada’s young people.”

Quoting the president of UNICEF Canada:

“Canada has the resources to uphold children’s rights – but not the will.”

Wrapping up her indictment:

“Young people like me who have grown up with the Convention still have hope. But we need more than that – we need action and change. Canada needs to keep its promises to its children and youth. This change is 18 years overdue.”

I love it! This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that the pro-youth involvement movement needs to adopt everywhere including Canada. So why am I reeling?

For the last 18 years of the Convention’s life the United States has refused to be party in it. Only the United States and the collapsed state of Somalia have not ratified it, and worse still, according to Amnesty International, “the United States continues to lead a defensive action against Children’s human Rights lobbying against further measures designed to protect children – most recently against efforts to stop the use of child soldiers.”

There are many reasons for youth voice supporters in the U.S. to support the CRC, the least of which is that children and youth are humans, too, and as young people they have particular rights and society has a particular responsibility. Let’s just say that out loud, all together now.

My two favorite sections of the Convention are Article 5, which identifies “evolving capacities” as the major determinate in a young person’s growth (versus child development theory) and Article 12, which boldly asserts that young people have their own voices (perspectives/ideas/opinions/knowledge) and if that weren’t enough it clearly states that children and youth should be “heard” in any official proceeding of any kind, either formal or informal. That is a legal mandate for youth involvement.

Now, that said it is no wonder the U.S. hasn’t signed off on this. There is a lot of criticism, including:

  • The CRC is about liberty rights and not about protecting children
  • The CRC gives children dangerous freedoms and undermines respect for adults and for parents
  • Ideas about their rights could encourage children to be greedy, selfish and irresponsible, and
  • The CRC could lead to complacency that treaties alone are enough to improve conditions for children

There has also been a great deal of scholarly and practical responses to these issues and others, many of which George Bush and his predecessors failed to hear.

Apparently there is a U.S. Campaign to ratify the CRC, but honestly, after I’ve been interested in the CRC for more than seven years and working in this field for 16 years, including spending time in Washington DC and now NYC, I have only heard of this campaign online. So I don’t know what the hope for this document is. All I know is that something – anything – has to change. Paula Reid, let’s hope that’s sooner than later.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

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