As the year comes to an end, we naturally reflect upon all that we have accomplished, and all that we need to continue to strive for. We celebrate our victories and triumphs, no matter how big, or small, they may be. As we look forward to the New Year we commit to working harder to overcome those obstacles that prevent us from being able to fulfill all our goals and objectives. Our agency is no different in that regard.
We have done amazing work to promote the best interest of the child in all our work. We have served a record number of individuals and families through our work with the Repatriation Program, our intercountry case management services and research, training and technical assistance through the Arthur C. Helton Institute. Most importantly we have diligently promoted an open dialogue about children and families separated by international borders that is child centered and child focused. Yet we recognize that there are still formidable barriers to realizing that goal. Foremost among these barriers is the failure of the United States to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): the most important child focused international human rights’ treaty in force today. The United States is one of only three countries in the world (Somalia and South Sudan being the other two) that has not ratified the treaty and where continued staunch opposition to ratification is primarily based on misinformation and fear mongering.
So as the year comes to a close we would like to take this opportunity to talk about why the discussion of the CRC must shift from a misleading dialogue about parental rights to the central issue of the best interest of the child!
The CRC was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 and became the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. The Convention was seen as the logical outcome of increasing attention to, and calls for remedies of, human rights violations around the world. The intent of the convention was to ensure that children were not excluded from the most basic of human rights including the right to family, the right to life and the right to be free from discrimination. More importantly, the Convention established the protection of the child’s physical, emotional and individual needs. The CRC was not conceptualized as an instrument for governments to interfere in the family. In fact, it was conceptualized to, in large part, protect the family, and provide crucial supports to families to keep them together. There is nothing in the treaty that implies that parents or legal guardians will be stripped of their authority over the child unless there is a compelling reason due to abuse or neglect. In fact, the role of the parent is noted in at least 19 of the 54 convention articles, and the word parent is mentioned over 30 times in the treaty. The notion that the treaty will prevent a parent from exercising their rights to educate their children, discipline their children, or prevent them from “teaching [their] moral standards” to their children is not only absurd it is factually incorrect. These kinds of claims are used to promote a political agenda that is blatantly anti-family under the guise of preventing the expansion of the “Welfare State.” Article 5 states that:
States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.
We believe that the danger of the anti-convention rhetoric is that it does, by default, undermine the very spirit of the Convention by moving the dialogue away from a child-centered one to one focused solely on the rights of the parents. This is, of course, the irony of this particular discussion. We cannot promote the best interest of the child because we are spending all our time talking about the adults’ rights. Is this not precisely why we need the Convention: so that the discussion about protecting children is child centered and not adult focused?
We believe that the heart of the CRC is Article 3 that states “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” As we look forward to 2015, ISS-USA will continue to demand that all discussions about protecting and promoting the protection of children and families be framed by this single, monumentally important ideal.