25 Years After Rights Of The Child Treaty, The World Has A Long Way To Go

Photo courtesy of European Commission DG Echo via Flickr

It’s been a quarter of a century since the United Nations drafted and passed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Regardless, millions of children across the world have continued to suffer.

In 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention of the Rights of the Child, an international human rights treaty that outlines the political, social, economic, civil, health, and cultural rights of children, or those under 18 years of age.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”yv9myM4xob1xwN5RiqsChvDz1LvKA4us”]Under the treaty, all children have the rights to education, adequate standard of living, care, play, opinion, privacy, nationality, and protection from violence, abuse, and force, along with many other provisions ensuring their safety.

Who has signed the treaty?

The treaty is signed by 195 nations, making it the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history.

ahasidebarThe only countries not to have ratified the treaty are South Sudan, Somalia, and the United States.

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Of these three, the only non-signatory is South Sudan. Somalia, like the United States, has signed and not ratified the treaty. (To sign means to endorse, but only ratification implies commitment.)

Where has the treaty succeeded, or failed?

Since the time of the Convention, whether because of it or due to other areas of progress, children are twice as likely to reach fifth birthday, and child enrollment in school jumped from 53 to 81 percent in 25 years.

42 countries prohibit corporal punishment for minors, as opposed to 4 in 1989. Child labor rates dropped from 1 in 4 to 1 in 8, according to Human Rights Watch.

But in spite of these improvements, factors persist that violate the treaty all over the world. For example:

  • Child homelessness is at a record high in America, having increased by 8 percent between 2012 and 2013
  • At least 58 million children are not in school
  • 168 million children are engaged in child labor
  • 14 million of young girls are married before age 18 every year
  • At least one million children are detained or imprisoned daily
  • Over 1,500 children die of neglect or abuse yearly in the US
  • At least 8.5 million children are in modern slavery or trafficking
  • 90 percent of the world’s children live in nation’s where corporal punishment is legal

These failures are in part due to the way in which the treaty is enforced. Ratified signatories need only report to a committee every five years, and the committee in return suggests improvements.

Why hasn’t the U.S. ratified the treaty?

Though the United States in many ways has laws in place that protect children similar to the treaty, and Presidents such as Clinton and Obama have expressed support of ratification, opposition by the Senate is clear and the treaty has never made it to a vote.

Why? Though it would not necessarily prevent ratification, certain laws in the U.S. violate treaty articles, like those that allow life sentencing for minors, or allow children under 12 to work in dangerous conditions.

Another argument is that the treaty might infringe on certain family freedoms such as homeschooling and rights to discipline, require overhaul of practices like closed adoptions, or infringe on domestic policymaking.

Moving forward

Though much progress has been made in regards to protecting the rights of children in the last 25 years, millions too many children do not benefit from the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Human Rights Watch recommends that governments do their part by making sure their national legislature complies with the treaty, that violations are able to be reported and dealt with effectively, that damaging policies are identified and abandoned, and that practices are created that will expand the ability for all children, regardless of status, to be educated, protected, and cared for.

Originally published on November 20, 2014. 

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert