- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

What are the rights of a child? Most of the world believes this question has been answered with a U.N. treaty that says children have basic rights to survive, develop, be protected from harm and exploitation, and fully participate in society.
However, an alternative list of children's rights, which is being presented this week at an international conference on families, says the U.N. treaty "misses larger truths" about children and their basic needs.
Children need a mother, a father, a home built on marriage, siblings, religion, and a healthy community, says Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family Religion and Society.
Mr. Carlson will refer to this 10-point Charter of Rights for children when he addresses the World Congress of Families in Washington Friday and Saturday.
Some conference sponsors believe it's time to revive discussions about the "real" rights of children.
"Everyone will benefit from a healthy and robust discussion" about children, families and rights, said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council and co-sponsor of the World Congress of Families meeting.
Others say the work of identifying children's rights is over and it's time to move on to enforcement issues.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) "is a fact of life. It exists. Most states have ratified it and many have gone ahead" to write legislation to enforce it, said Marjorie Newman-Williams, director of communications for UNICEF.
"So in many minds, we've moved past the discussion of what are the rights and moved into the what are we going to do about it" discussions, she added.
These and other issues are likely to be discussed next year at a U.N. special session on children. The international session, which was postponed after the Sept. 11 terror attack in New York, may be rescheduled for early May, Mrs. Newman-Williams said.
The idea of children's rights first was endorsed by the League of Nations in 1924. But more than half a century passed before Poland, in 1978, made a formal proposal to the United Nations about establishing legally binding rights of children.
A U.N. working group representing different nations, cultures and religions met annually from 1979 to 1989 to determine what constituted children's rights.
The diversity of the group made reaching a consensus for the CRC an "excruciating process," recalled Mrs. Newman-Williams, who attended many of the sessions.
The CRC says all children have a right to survive; to have a name, parents, family ties and an adequate standard of living; an education; and to be protected from harm and exploitation. Children also have the right to obtain information, express their opinions, play, meet, share views with others and enjoy freedom of conscience and religion.
To date, 191 nations have signed or ratified the CRC. However, the United States is a holdout it signed the CRC in 1995, but has not ratified it. Somalia is the only other nation not to join the treaty.
Religious, labor and children's advocacy groups in the United States give widespread support to the CRC. Amnesty International, for instance, says the CRC is essential to protect children against violence, abuse, hazardous employment, exploitation, abduction or sale.
A 1998 booklet on "The Rights of the Child," written by the Rev. Dr. Thorwald Lorenzen and published by the Baptist World Alliance, says faithful Christians should support providential human rights instruments such as the CRC.
Opponents of the CRC believe the treaty overemphasizes children's individual rights, placing them in conflict with U.S. constitutional laws and parental rights.
The CRC "comes with the assumption that rights emanate from the government. That is in contradiction with the United States' form of government, where we see our rights emanating from God," said Wendy Wright, spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, another sponsor of the World Congress of Families meeting.
"Parents are the people who know their children the best and love them the most, and ought to be and rightfully are the primary decision makers for children," said Mr. Connor of the Family Research Council. "When children are treated as little adults, they are vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation by big adults."
Both Mr. Connor and Miss Wright applaud Mr. Carlson's view of children's rights.
"He has placed the child right where the child ought to be in our judgment, which is in the middle of the family," said Mr. Connor.
Children are part of a community, not "autonomous" rights-bearers, said Miss Wright. The Carlson list "puts the focus on the family," which is the smallest form of community, she said.
Mr. Carlson said he wrote his alternative list of children's rights after pondering the CRC.
"There are good and decent things that the CRC is trying to accomplish," he said, but it "misses the larger truths about children and their needs."
"What children really need," he said, are a mother, a father, a home built on marriage, brothers and sisters, ancestors or older generations, posterity or subsequent generations, religious faith, a healthy community, innocence until adulthood, and tradition.
These rights "grow out of our human nature," which is "to be in families," he said. These rights, he added, are supported by research that shows that children do better when they have a healthy and loving family, religion and community.
Mr. Carlson's list sets many desirable goals, but "it goes into a level of detail that, for the life of me, I can't understand how you would legislate it," said Mrs. Newman-Williams.
"Each child has a right to a home based in marriage, again an extremely desirable goal, but how would you legally enforce it?" she said. "If a woman is in an abusive relationship, are you going to say she's stuck with it because the child has a right to a home built on marriage? Or if the mother walks away or dies of HIV-AIDS, how will you enforce a child's right to have a mother?"
Mr. Carlson's list "is all very well in theory, but in practice, it's very much a Western perspective, I think," said the Rev. Tony Cupit of the Baptist World Alliance. The right to have siblings, for instance, "is very challengeable" considering that overpopulation is a primary concern of some countries, he said.
Mr. Connor and Miss Wright agreed that Mr. Carlson's list was unlikely to be legally enforceable, but said it offered an important point of view that was lacking in the CRC.
The issue of children's rights is likely to return to the U.S. Senate after Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and staunch opponent of the CRC, retires in 2002, Miss Wright noted. A likely candidate to lead the push for CRC ratification, she said, is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.


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