Why Does US Balk at UN Convention on the Rights of children?

November 20 was the 25th year anniversary of the UN Convention for children’s rights that was adopted by the General Assembly, in 1989. Three countries have not ratified the convention that sets out to protect the rights of a child everywhere, making those rights a part of international law: South Sudan, which became a country in 2011, Somalia, and the U.S.

A month before the 2008 presidential election, candidate Barack Obama said: “It’s embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. I will review this and other treaties to ensure the United States resumes its global leadership in human rights.” Not only has he not acted on that pledge, he never pushed the Senate, which has been controlled by Democrats, to ratify it, and 10 days ago, on the 25th year anniversary of the Convention, which provided the occasion for many heads of states to give eloquent speeches on its significance, his Administration did not say a word.

It’s important to understand the reasons why the US, which claims to be a champion of human rights and frequently criticizes, for not respecting human rights, those it considers its adversaries, such as Russia, China, Iran and Cuba (but not Saudi Arabia or Israel or Jordan or Egypt or Turkey and many others it considers friendly), has not ratified it. The convention “sets standards in health care, education and legal, civil and social services for children.” It also prohibits torture and long prison sentences in criminal cases. “The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time,” it says.

Not only are the bylaws of the Convention in regards to providing healthcare and social services to children problematic for the U.S., so are its stipulations regarding treatment of children within the criminal justice system. According to UNICEF, as many as 70,000 children are imprisoned each day in the US, the majority of them for minor offenses. Others are imprisoned for what are known as “status offenses”, such as dropping out of school, running away from home or alcohol use. Before the practice was rendered unconstitutional by the U.S. High Court in 2005, 22 states used to even execute prisoners younger than 18. And although in 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled against life without parole for crimes other than murder, it did not ban life sentences for children, which the Convention deems illegal, for any crime, including murder. Thus, the Court has left the door open to incarcerating children for life, which makes the Convention all the more vital for children living in the US. According to Human Rights Watch, U.S. law also still permits children as young as 12 to be hired in agriculture “under dangerous conditions in violation of the convention’s prohibitions on the economic exploitation of children.”

Incidentally, HRW and other rights organizations have also reported on Israel imprisoning and torturing Palestinian children as young as 12 years old and with the new law just passed about a month ago, which increases prison sentences for throwing rocks at occupation soldiers or police cars to 20 years in prison, many more Palestinian children are bound to end up incarcerated for long periods of time. When it comes to Palestinian children, no convention or international laws ever reaches or covers them, as they remain under the brutal occupation, isolated from and inaccessible to the “international community”.

And, as the U.S. continues its move towards a bonafide police state with increasing rights for the police, while those of its citizens shrink and their surveillance is expanded, the government of the corporate elite figures it has no use for international laws that might tie its hands in dealing with and crushing any resistance that might and will erupt as the grossly unjust distribution of wealth continues, widening the income and wealth gap and pushing more and more of what’s left of the middle class into the ranks of the poor, while those at the bottom are pushed to the breaking point. Opposition to such basic common sense international conventions that just about every other government agrees on, is one more indication as to how low the uninhibited corporate rule has sunk the society and how badly and urgently a fundamental change in governance, policies and priorities is needed.

As the militarization of the police continues in lockstep with economic degradation of the working poor, especially among African Americans, the white supremacist government of the 1% anticipates and prepares for and tries to stay five steps ahead of Ferguson type eruptions. Every year, millions of dollars are spent on equipping the police departments throughout the nation for heavy and fierce battle, including the use of heavy weapons, armored personnel carriers, tanks and attack helicopters, in anticipation of not thousands or tens of thousands on the streets, but millions. That alone should tell all there is to know.


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