NEW YORK — Country delegates gather at the United Nations tomorrow to finalize their negotiations on a document to be presented at an upcoming “World Summit” that will focus on the sexual exploitation of children in Asia, boys conscripted as soldiers in Africa, children the world over sold into forced labor and other grave injustices.
The U.N. General Assembly’s Special Session on Children is scheduled for Sept. 19.
Although world leaders have agreed that all children must be protected from exploitation, their concern is driving a controversial movement to redefine rights for children.
For instance, legal scholars have asked whether those legitimate protections require that children also have rights to “assembly” and rights to legal, psychological and medical services without parental consent? Such sweeping “rights” make children masters of their own lives and thus vulnerable to everything from pornographers to abortion providers to pedophiles, say concerned family-values groups.
At stake are the legal standing of the children of the world, national sovereignty and the traditional legal protection for parental rights. The United Nations seeks to create a universal and autonomous legal standing for children 0-18 years of age. Pro-family observers have voiced grave reservations about the document in progress. Is a child an autonomous bearer of rights or are his rights safeguarded within the context of the family until the child is of age?
Delegates from 180 countries will meet throughout the week to refine the draft document that has been in negotiation for months. At issue is the framework for the document.
The United States, under the Bush administration, seeks to avoid use of the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as the foundation for the World Summit for Children. The U.S. believes that the legitimate need to protect children from gross human rights abuses can be accomplished without implementation of the CRC that some say eviscerates parental rights and national sovereignty.
The European Union and other allies have insisted that the CRC should be implemented as part of the Summit. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that has been signed by every nation except Somalia and the United States. The U.S. Congress has, so far, been confident that American laws protect American children.
The U.S. endures a diplomatic chill for its refusal to ratify the CRC that was adopted in 1989 by the nations of the world. The roiling undercurrent of this week’s negotiations on the draft document for children will be the growing alienation of the United States from her traditional allies on a whole spectrum of “rights” issues. The criticisms of other nations take on particular significance in the wake of the ouster of the U.S. from the United Nations Human Rights Committee last month.
On Wednesday, Rep. Chris Smith and other members the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights cited the presence of alleged human rights offenders, including Sudan and China, on the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission.
“The Nazis could serve and be in good standing on the Human Rights Commission,” said Smith. Conversely, Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia claims the U.S. is one of the world’s “worst rights abusers,” according to a U.N. report.
Amnesty International also lists the United States among rights abusers. Richard Matthews of the Atlanta Journal Constitution dismissed the A.I. report. Amnesty International “drones on endlessly about the horrible state of human rights in hellhole places like the United States, Canada and Australia, largely ignoring the major difference between individual outlaw acts and the intentional, premeditated policies of ruling regimes,” he wrote.
American organizations also express deep concern for the growing divide over the international understanding of rights, particularly newly interpreted rights for children. According to the conservative family-values group Concerned Women of America, “This treaty (CRC) divorces children from their parents, giving them full autonomy over every aspect of their lives. This assault on parental rights puts children’s lives and well being at risk, rather than seeking their best interest.”
Opponents of the treaty point to Article 3 as too loosely constructed and open to interpretations that favor the state as the primary guardian of the child and the arbiter of “best interests of the child.” Other problematical provisions are found in Article 13: “right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”
Critics note that the phrase “ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers” is ominous. Such “rights” make children the prey of satanic cults, pornographers and Internet pedophiles among other dangers. The right to abortion and contraception education and services is provided in Article 24, and the right to “profess and practice his or her own religion” is codified in Article 30. Some parents have asked what if the “religion” is a juvenile obsession with a dangerous cult? The language of the treaty is too easily manipulated, claim opponents.
Family Research Council, a Washington D.C.-based policy studies organization, issued a position paper on the CRC that warned of “much ambiguous language. However, many prominent lawyers became aware of the problems and traps …” The Bush administration tapped Family Research Council senior fellow William Saunders to serve on the U.S. delegation to this week’s negotiations at the U.N. Saunders, whose work at Harvard Law School focused on legal philosophy and international law, is also vice chair for religious liberties of the Federalist Society.
The Family Research Council’s paper, “The Wrongs of the U.N.’s Rights of the Child” traces the history of the treaty’s development and the worrisome interpretations applied by contemporary proponents. The paper identifies the treaty as “humanist (not Christian). Humanism denies and rejects God. … Humanism recognizes and accepts abortion, euthanasia, suicide and countless other immoral acts. …” The paper is blunt in its assessment of the purposes behind the treaty supporters, who work for the “establishment of a completely secular society, which is its goal. It also realizes that the traditional family, marked by strong parental authority, is an obstacle to this goal and, therefore, seeks to dismantle it.”
Focus on the Family, one of the oldest and best known evangelical organizations in the United States, advises its members that the Rights of the Child treaty “means not only that the countries must bring all their laws and regulations into line with the Convention, but must take all appropriate measures to enforce those laws and regulations.” The organization fears the Treaty is a threat to national sovereignty.
Focus on the Family points to the Treaty’s establishment of an official committee to monitor compliance. Several nations have been ordered to make adjustments to domestic laws in order to achieve Treaty objectives.
“… [The CRC] gives the Committee a virtually unlimited mandate to insert itself in the affairs of a nation. It can demand wholesale changes in a country’s legal system, education system, and social-welfare institutions — whatever is necessary to bring the country into line with the Convention,” says Focus on the Family.
Focus on the Family lists the following matters of daily life to be the domain of the Convention on the Rights of the Child Committee: breastfeeding; children’s access to health care and legal counseling; children’s social, spiritual, moral physical and mental well-being; environmental pollution; sex education; parental discipline; family planning; children’s leisure, play and recreational activities; the media; children’s books.
Focus encourages its members to contact the U.S. Congress and urge that it “conduct public hearings on attempts by U.N. treaty bodies, such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to advance policies that intrude on national sovereignty and undermine the rights of parents.”
At least one United Kingdom family policy group is also calling for a second look at the Treaty. Lynette Burrows of the Oxford Family Trust quotes with anxiety the ideology of Gerison Lansdown, chair of the Children’s Rights Development Unit. “Much of children’s vulnerability derives from historical attitudes … and is a social and political construct and not an inherent or inevitable consequence of childhood itself. …”
Burrows adds, “Some of the strongest support for ‘children’s rights’ has come from well-identified homosexual and pedophile organizations, which long ago realized that the easiest way to obtain access to children was to demand their freedom from any form of restraint, thereby exposing them to the predatory behavior of those who would harm them.”
As the U.S. picks its way through the negotiations at the U.N. in the coming week, pro-family non-governmental organizations in attendance hope to help forestall any demand to make the Convention on the Rights of the Child the framework for the September World Summit for Children.