The Diversity in Standards for Protecting Children’s Rights

Despite contributing to its creation, the US remains the only UN member yet to ratify the Child Rights Convention, leaving children unprotected in areas such as marriage, corporal punishment, child labour, and juvenile justice.
Little girl in box holding cardboard sign "Protect Childrens Rights"

As much funding, effort, and legislative power we designate to the protection of children, it’s significant to realize the United States is not in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. Since its adoption in 1989, 196 countries have ratified the CRC which is purposed to protect children from violence and exploitation, and ensure their healthy development and education. 

To date the United States is the only UN member that has not ratified the convention. I think it’s important to look at some of the issues as to what that means. Let me be clear that many United States experts were instrumental in adoption of the standards of the CRC and 4 out of 5 Americans surveyed agree with the standards published. However, state by state, the United States has yet to adopt laws that are consistent with the standards to protect children.

For example, child marriage standards are set at 18 by the CRC. Yet Research by Unchained found that over a quarter of a million children, some as young as 10 years old were married between the 2000 and 2018. Child marriage is legal in 41 states.

The CRC does not allow for any legalized form of violence against children, including corporal punishment and degrading forms of punishment considered violent. The CRC states there should be legislative measures to prevent it.  Yet in America, despite research which indicates this kind of punishment is ineffective in changing behavior and is harmful to child development, 22 states consider corporal punishment legal in public and private schools.

Child Labor is another area of concern. It’s defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and it’s harmful to their physical and mental development. The point of contention is in the field of agriculture, where children are used in families to work on their farms. There’s not a single state in the US that complies with the CRC standard of the minimum child age of 15-years-old for child labor.

In Juvenile Justice, the CRC attempts to prevent children from engaging in criminal activity and protects the rights of children who have already broken the law. They have established that no child should be tried as an adult in a criminal trial and there is no life sentence for children.

Only 8 American states have set a minimum age higher than 10 years old for prosecution. The CRC recommendation is 14 years old. In the United States, approximately 50,000 children are tried as adults in the criminal justice system. Twenty-two states allow children to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

I recognize there are controversies about some of these issues, but it’s clear many international countries have made significant commitments for the protection of children. Since many of these standards in the US are determined state-by-state, there’s a variety of legislative standards that are inconsistent with each other that would be considered honoring the rights of children. If you go to you will see a state-by-state evaluation. Some of those statistics are alarming. When we are considering something as important as the rights for children, we should be setting standards that are consistent and carefully designed to protect them from some very serious consequences that will have a huge impact on the rest of their lives. 

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