Sunday, April 17, 2011
Speaking of family values….
So I won't try to express outrage over my latest discovery that the U.S. has never ratified the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, crafted in 1989. We're not known for our treaty ratifications. We're rather famously known for not liking to be told what to do (while we're stomping around in other people's glass houses). It's just embarrassing whenever we turn up in sentences like, "Only two countries, Somalia and the United States, have not ratified this celebrated agreement."
It is always interesting when the UN declares things "legally binding" when there is no global court, but an honor system is a start. How it does ruffle the hegemonic feathers. The principles we will stand on, even when we wrote the document itself. Let's take Somalia off the table for a moment -- their lack of government makes it difficult for them to do much of anything. Let's set our own house in order.
Articles of the CRC are surprisingly readable, more so than our own Constitution, and much more so than, say, the King James Bible. There are 54 of them -- I won't enumerate them all. Some are "a child is a person under 18," which is already of international debate.
Others are "this text will be documented in the official languages of the UN, etc." And in between are things that cover toddlers working in shoe factories and youth having the right to assembly.
The US did participate in the creation of the CRC, and in 1995 signed it with the hand of Madeleine Albright, but does not recognize it as binding. Freedoms and such, you know. But then, we also don’t recognize the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. They’re not the boss of us.
Who could be against such a thing, you ask? Jesse Helms, for one. “Bag of worms” was his (muddied) term. Well, you know, f*** him, and the grave he lies in. Seriously, what was wrong with that guy?
Some of the sticky statements in the plain simple English of the CRC:
“Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age…” We just can’t get out from under that one, can we? Since the modern revival of the death penalty in the US, about 20 juvenile offenders have been executed – we wait until they are over 21 to do it. That’s how we get around being completely reprehensible, but that’s not what the article says, is it?
“States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child's best interests.” A statement that may have made a difference to Elian Gonzalez, though we still would have argued “best interest.”
“states shall take appropriate measures …To develop preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and services.” Not the agenda at present.
Before we rail only against the Right, we must acknowledge some language that prickles the US Left as well:
Article 6: “States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life. “ That statement may not be so charged in a country where children die from mosquito bites, but them’s fightin’ words around here.
Or this passage, within Article 20 about children “deprived of …family environment”: “When considering solutions, due regard shall be paid to the desirability of continuity in a child's upbringing and to the child's ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background.”
Well that’s awkward.
And, as we have discovered, homeschoolers fall on both sides of the ideological divide. Article 28 appears to make provisions for both paramilitary and hippie curricula, then Article 29 specifies what seems to prefer the latter.
And probably none of us wants the kids to know this is in there:
"Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child ...”
I am not moved to demand the immediate ratification of a not-truly binding Convention that I mostly agree with, just to avoid being on a bench with Somalia. But I do believe that if we are not going to play along with the body we invented that meets at our house… we might want to keep quiet every once in a while.