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In late November 2007, the U.N. General Assembly voted to create a new post, special representative on violence against children. The measure was approved by a vote of 176 to 1; only the United States voted against it. While international consensus on political issues often is elusive, ending child abuse would seem to be one goal that all would support. Why then was the United States the lone holdout? In certain respects, the vote simply reflects the current state of global child advocacy: The United States, long a leader in child advocacy, is now viewed by many in the international arena as frustrating progress to ensure the rights of children. But this vote represents a shift, as well, and thus might prove significant in terms of the United States’ place in global child advocacy. Although the United States has parted ways with its allies and international organizations on a number of issues since Sept. 11, 2001, anti-internationalist sentiment does not fully explain the U.S. stance vis-�-vis international child advocacy efforts. In fact, in December 2007, the United States ratified the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (which will enter into force in the U.S. on April 1, 2008), demonstrating a willingness to participate, at least selectively. The U.N. approach to the specific issue of violence against children was not the obstacle, either. The impetus for a U.N. special representative on violence against children derived in part from the U.N. Study on Violence Against Children, published in 2006. That study was developed through a process of regional consultations on issues of violence against children, including a North American consultation in which the United States participated. And yet, when it came to establishing a special representative post to guarantee that the prevention of violence against children is given priority, the United States voted no. The creation of the special representative position was actually one element of a larger resolution on the rights of the child that also called on countries to eliminate child hunger, criminalize and penalize all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and work to prevent the abduction of children, especially in situations of armed conflict. The United States contributes to efforts on all of these issues yet still voted against the resolution. The United States’ primary objection to the resolution was that it believed the resolution gave too much prominence to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The resolution urged states that had yet to become parties to the CRC to do so, emphasizing that the CRC “must constitute the standard in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.” The United States (along with Somalia) is not a party to the CRC, and this language was the point of contention. As a result, the United States is on record as voting against addressing the many hardships experienced by children around the globe, because the current U.S. administration does not support CRC ratification (although it has ratified the CRC’s two optional protocols). Adopted in 1989, the CRC is the most comprehensive international treaty on the rights and well-being of children. It addresses civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The CRC covers core issues, ranging from freedom from torture and various forms of exploitation to health and education rights, as well as issues of particular relevance to children (e.g., the right to know one’s parents, and the provision of alternative care arrangements when necessary). The CRC is also notable because it is the most widely ratified human rights treaty. One hundred ninety-three countries are party to the CRC; only the United States and Somalia, which has not had an internationally recognized government, are not. Many in the international community find the U.S. position perplexing for several reasons. First, the CRC has fostered positive changes in law, policies and attitudes toward children in numerous countries. See, e.g., UNICEF, Study on the Impact of the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (2004). Second, during the CRC’s drafting, which took place during the Reagan and Bush I administrations, the United States was arguably the most active participant, putting forth proposals and textual recommendations for 38 of 40 substantive CRC provisions. For example, the United States is responsible for provisions on the child’s right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression � provisions that opponents of the CRC now suggest are reasons why the United States cannot ratify the treaty. While there is strong support for the CRC among a significant portion of the U.S. population, opposition to U.S. ratification of the CRC has been passionate in some circles. Ratification of any treaty is a serious process requiring thoughtful consideration. Thoughtful consideration, however, need not mean inaction. The U.S. position on the CRC is now blocking its ability to support other meaningful international child advocacy efforts. Thus it is important to reassess the U.S. view of the CRC, and no longer only because of the value of the CRC itself. Opposition to the CRC typically voices two overarching concerns � that ratification of the CRC would undermine U.S. sovereignty, and that the CRC, and children’s rights generally, would undermine parental authority. Questions regarding the potential impact of the CRC on sovereignty highlight a long-standing U.S. concern with respect to all human rights treaties. The anxiety is that if the United States ratifies a human rights treaty, it will cede control over certain domestic issues to the United Nations. The primary flaw in this argument is that the United States has ratified other human rights treaties without any adverse impact on its sovereignty. The United States traditionally views human rights treaties as nonself-executing and would likely include a nonself-executing “understanding” when ratifying the CRC, as it has done in the past (the United States typically submits a limited number of reservations, understandings and declarations when ratifying a human rights treaty). As a result, implementing legislation would be required to give effect to the treaty at the domestic level, and sovereignty would not be undermined. A related argument specific to the CRC is that many issues affecting children in the United States are handled by state and local authorities. Therefore, the argument goes, it just doesn’t work with our system of federalism to sign a treaty that governs these issues. This line of reasoning fails to take two important points into account. First, the “federalism” issue has arisen in the past, and the U.S. has addressed it by including an understanding to the effect that “the U.S. understands that the [treaty] shall be implemented by our federal government to the extent that it exercises legislative and judicial jurisdiction over those matters, and otherwise implemented by state and local governments; and to the extent that state and local governments exercise jurisdiction over such matters, our federal government will take measures appropriate to our federal system so that competent authorities of state and local governments may take appropriate measures to fulfill our obligations under the [treaty].” See U.N. Treaty Collection, www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/treaty5_asp.htm. Such an understanding would address federalism issues as they arise in the context of international obligations. Second, as mentioned above, the United States ratified the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Adoption is typically governed by state law in the United States, yet this did not prevent the United States from joining a treaty that aims to ensure adequate protection of children in intercountry adoptions. Thus, sovereignty and federalism concerns cannot be barriers to ratification. The second general concern expressed related to the CRC � that of its impact on parental authority � appears to be at the heart of the main opposition to the CRC. Understandably, a parent would want to know how any law, domestic or international, might affect his or her family. Opponents of the CRC argue that the CRC will enable children to sue their parents. This assertion is not supported by the text of the CRC or the U.S. approach to human rights treaties generally. The CRC does not establish a direct cause of action; any legal action by children against their parents would have to be based on existing federal or state law. Moreover, children can sue now (through a next friend) for physical abuse or gross negligence. That fact does not suggest a child would succeed in suing parents over day-to-day parental decisions regarding childrearing. The clearest answer to the question of the impact of children’s rights on parents comes from the text of the CRC itself. Fundamentally, the CRC is about protecting children and empowering parents and legal guardians with more tools to protect their children. Nineteen substantive articles of the CRC expressly recognize the importance of parents and family in the lives of children. Many of these provisions technically could have been drafted without reference to parents, legal guardians or families, but the drafters intended to build into the CRC recognition of the vital role played by parents and families in the development of children. The CRC calls the family “the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children” and requires governments to “respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.” CRC, Pmbl. & Art. 5. Rather than divide parents and children, the CRC offers parents additional resources to help protect their children and to ensure that their children have access to the resources required to meet their basic needs. The two primary concerns expressed about the CRC do not appear to reflect either its language or likely U.S. application of it. Meanwhile, the United States now finds itself in an increasingly untenable position. Not only is it the only country that opposes this treaty aimed at securing the rights of children, its current opposition now compels it to vote against other measures aimed at protecting children, such as the resolution establishing a special representative on violence against children. The recent vote and the language of the resolution may foreshadow further challenges for the United States. The language emphasizing that the CRC “must constitute the standard in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child” is a stronger statement than that made by the international community about the CRC in the past. Five years ago, at the U.N. Special Session on Children (the first U.N. General Assembly session ever dedicated solely to children), the U.S. delegation successfully lobbied against the CRC, so that the final outcome document described it only as “contain[ing] a comprehensive set of international legal standards for the protection and well-being of children.” That the latest resolution contained more stringent language may suggest a new stance by the rest of the world � the international community appears to have decided that it must do something to aid children vulnerable to violence and exploitation, and that if the United States won’t join it, the United States will be left behind. Many international law practitioners believe it will be regrettable if the U.S. allows itself to be left behind. Progress in the international arena on any issue is difficult even with the support and influence of the world’s sole superpower. Still, there is much that can be done without the United States. More importantly, the United States faces a decision. It once was a leader, if not the leader, on issues affecting children. The first juvenile court was established in the United States. The best interests of the child standard � the foundational principle of the CRC � has been used in U.S. law for more than 100 years. Yet, today, millions of children in the United States and around the world live without their basic needs met. They lack access to health care, receive substandard education, are homeless and are subjected to abuse and exploitation through abusive labor practices, the sex industry and armed conflict, to name just a few. The CRC offers a template for ensuring the rights and well-being of children in the United States and beyond. U.S. ratification would also enable this country to put its full support behind many other worthwhile endeavors aimed at protecting children in need. These factors suggest that the CRC merits reconsideration by the United States. Jonathan Todres is an associate professor at Georgia State University College of Law and co-editor of the book The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child: An Analysis of Treaty Provisions and Implications of U.S. Ratification (Brill Academic Publishers 2006).

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