Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Anniversaries are generally cause for celebration. And this week marks a significant one in the children’s rights world. On November 20, 2019, the global community celebrates the 30thth anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). What’s impressive about the CRC is not just its breadth of coverage (it’s the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights) or its widespread acceptance (it’s the most widely-ratified human rights treaty in history). What’s arguably most impressive is its transformative value. The CRC has compelled governments to recognize children as individuals with rights of their own. It has spurred countless laws, policies, and programs aimed at improving child wellbeing. And it has done all this while reaffirming the vital role of the family.
Since the advent of the CRC, we have witnessed significant progress on an array of issues affecting children—under-five child mortality has declined by more than half, school enrollment has increased, child labor has dropped, and gains have been realized in many other areas. So, on November 20th, we should celebrate these positive developments of the CRC era.
And then on November 21, we need to get back to work. Children’s rights—like human rights more broadly—are still a work in progress in every country.
Here in the United States, the “To Do” list is far longer than a short essay can capture. Racial disparities, barriers to education and health care, trafficking and other forms of child exploitation, exploitative child labor, child marriage, and other child rights violations persist in the United States. And arguably the most blatant violations of children’s rights are occurring at the U.S. southern border. As a colleague and I have detailed, the children’s rights abuses perpetrated by the Trump Administration, through its family separation and child detention actions, are extensive. And the trauma inflicted on children, including toddlers, will likely have lifelong adverse consequences. In short, when the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials calls your government’s actions a “crime against humanity,” addressing such gross violations of human rights must be at the top of any priority list.
Of course, the United States is the only country that has not ratified the CRC. Despite this, the treaty can still be an asset we can use to strengthen communities and support children’s development. After all, many of us are guided in our daily lives by moral, ethical or religious principles that are not enshrined in law. Children’s rights law offers the same potential. So while we may have to wait for U.S. ratification of the CRC, children’s rights frameworks can be employed effectively at the state and local level. UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative offers one potential model for partnering with cities and towns to help ensure children’s wellbeing.
Finally, perhaps the biggest lesson from the CRC is the value of children’s voices. Article 12 of the CRC establishes that children have a right to be heard. And their voices can make a difference. We need only look to recent youth advocacy on gun violence and climate change to see the positive power that children have and the thoughtful vision they have for their future and ours.
As Eleanor Roosevelt once stated, universal human rights begin ‘in small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world... Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.’
Each of us can support and strengthen children’s rights by beginning close to home. We can use the CRC as a guide for creating more rights-respecting communities. And, most important, we can listen to and help ensure that all children are heard on matters that affect their lives.