Paul Sakuma/AP
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Sen. Boxer’s Push to Ratify UN Convention Raises Ire of Parents

February 26, 2009 05:28 PM
by Christopher Coats
The effort to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has caught the attention of critics worried that the international agreement could threaten their parental rights.

Boxer Sees Opportunity

The convention, which was passed nearly 20 years ago, signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1995, but never ratified by Congress, lays out 54 articles meant to provide mental and physical protection to children, defined as individuals under the age of 18.

Fought by parental rights advocates in the United States since it was introduced, the convention has been ratified by every UN country except for the United States and Somalia—a fact that President Barack Obama called an “embarrassment” during the campaign.

That sentiment has given proponents of the convention’s ratification, including California’s Barbara Boxer and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, reason to believe they will finally succeed in passing it through Congress.

“Children deserve basic human rights … and the convention protects children’s rights by setting some standards here so that the most vulnerable people of society will be protected,” said Boxer, according to Fox News.

During the confirmation hearing of Susan Rice to become the next ambassador to the United Nations, Boxer pressed the nominee to define the new administration’s support for the convention.

Calling it a “shame” that the United States had not yet ratified it, Rice assured Boxer that it would be an important part of the administration’s policy, though she stopped short of agreeing to a timeline for ratification sought by Boxer.

Reaction: Parental rights advocates return to the fold

However, the California senator’s efforts have raised the ire of critics of the convention, including homeschooling advocates and those wary about it superseding state and federal laws, who have successfully kept it from passing through Congress.

Citing the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause in Article VI, which states that accepted international treaties would be recognized as the law of the land, critics have sought to derail the convention, arguing that it would overrule parental control.

Avoiding articles that address the role of child soldiers, prostitution and pornography, most of which the United States is already party to, critics have cited those articles that deal with a child’s right to privacy and association as offering the most potential for harm.

A vocal opponent of the convention’s ratification since Clinton signed it in 1995, the National Center for Home Education wrote in 1999, “If ratified by the U.S. Senate, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child would undermine families by granting to children a list of radical ‘rights’ which would be primarily enforced against the parents,” adding, “These new ‘fundamental’ rights would include ‘the right to privacy,’ ‘the right to freedom of thought and association,’ and the right to ‘freedom of expression.’”

More recently, groups have taken special interest in just who would dictate standards of privacy and freedom for children.

“To the extent that an outside body, a group of unaccountable so-called experts in Switzerland have a say over how children in America should be raised, educated and disciplined—that is an erosion of American sovereignty,” Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation told Fox News.

Response: Existing laws protect sovereignty

However, proponents of ratification argue that the process of approving the convention by a legislative body—the U.S. Congress—would negate charges that it was being forced on the country from outside.

“The United States can only be bound by international law through the exercise of its own legislative processes,” wrote the Harvard Human Rights Journal. “In order for the United States to become a party to an international agreement, ‘a domestic decision-maker [e.g., the Senate]’ must accept the agreement.”

Further, the journal argued that existing policies regarding the ratification of international agreements would protect states’ rights over laws concerning children.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines