One of the issues American families could face this year is the ramifications from a treaty called the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
You may ask, “How could a treaty directly affect internal decision-making by American families?” We generally think of treaties as agreements affecting international relations between countries. The U.N., however, has initiated treaties that not only affect international relations, but also the domestic relations of member nations as well. These treaties, sometimes called “conventions,” require member nations that ratify the treaty to implement the requirements as binding law or rules.
On Nov. 20, 1989, the U.N. adopted the CRC and submitted it for ratification to the member nations. It has been ratified by 193 nations - the United States is one of the few countries that has not ratified it.
The ratification process requires a two-thirds vote by the U.S. Senate. On Feb. 16, 1995, Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., signed the CRC on behalf of the United States. The CRC, however, has never been sent to the Senate for ratification because there is insufficient support to pass it.
Due to the recent election, however, there are rumblings from Capitol Hill that there will be an effort to seek ratification of the CRC during the next congressional cycle. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a strong supporter of the treaty, and as secretary of state, would have direct control over the submission of treaties to the Senate.
Why should passage of the CRC be of concern? It likely would have a negative impact on domestic law and practice in the United States. Article VI of our Constitution makes treaties - and remember, conventions are viewed as treaties - “the supreme law of the land.” The CRC would be treated as superior to laws in every state regarding the parent-child relationship. This would include issues regarding education, health care, family discipline, the child’s role in family decision-making, and a host of other subjects.
Article 43 of the CRC establishes an international committee on the rights of the child to examine compliance by member nations. This committee, which sits in Geneva, has final authority concerning interpretation of the language contained in the CRC.
Two central principles of the CRC clearly are contrary to current U.S. laws related to parent-child relationships. The CRC provides that in all matters relating to children, whether private or public, or in courts, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. Additionally, nations should ensure that children are capable of expressing their views freely in all matters affecting them, giving due weight to the age and maturity of the child.
This is contrary to traditional American law, which provides that absent proof of harm, courts and social workers simply do not have the authority to intervene in parent-child relationships and decision-making. The importance of this tradition and practice is that the government may not substitute its judgment for that of the parent until there is proof of harm to the child sufficient to justify governmental intervention. It is clear that in two very important areas of the parent-child relationship, religion and education, there will be potential for tremendous conflict.
The international committee in Geneva, in reviewing the laws of practice of countries that have ratified the CRC, has expressed its concern that parents could home-school without the view of the child being considered; that parents could remove their children from sex-education classes without the view of the child being considered; that parents were legally permitted to use corporal punishment; and that children didn’t have access to reproductive health information without parental knowledge.
The bottom line is the CRC would drastically weaken the United States’ sovereignty over family life, which would have a substantial impact on every American family. For more information on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, visit www.parentalrights.org/learn.
• Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.