Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

A UN Treaty Guarantees Youth Rights Everywhere on Earth—Except the U.S.

Popular
Activists Greta Thunberg (2ndL), Iris Duquesne(C), and Alexandria Villaseñor (3rd R) attend a press conference where 16 children present their official human rights complaint on the climate crisis to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child at the UNICEF Building on Sept. 23 in NYC. KENA BETANCUR / AFP / Getty Images

By Jessica Taft

Fifteen kids from a dozen countries, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, recently brought a formal complaint to the United Nations. They're arguing that climate change violates children's rights as guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a global agreement.


By petitioning the UN on behalf of the world's children, their action made history. But it's not the first time that kids have turned to this international accord in pursuit of social change.

As I explain in my book The Kids Are in Charge the Convention on the Rights of the Child isn't just a legal document. It also sends kids an important message: that they matter, that their voices are important and that they deserve to be heard. When countries join this agreement, which took effect in 1990, they pledge to work toward aligning their own laws with its principles.

Banning Corporal Punishment

The convention formally recognizes children as people with universal human rights and specific rights because of their age. It reflects a shift away from seeing children entirely as the possessions of their parents to treating them as individuals with equal rights and their own interests.

Many countries have taken action to promote children's rights and well-being based in part on its mandate. For example, South Africa recently became the 57th country to prohibit corporal punishment — any act intended to cause pain or discomfort, such as paddling and spanking — in all settings, including schools and homes.

Corporal punishment remains legal in public schools in 19 American states and no state has outlawed the practice for parents.

In Ireland, a 2012 constitutional amendment gave kids the right to be heard in custody hearings and other court proceedings. And in Nigeria, the federal government created a children's parliament and incorporated the perspectives of minors when drafting that country's Children's Rights Act.

President Bill Clinton signed this convention in 1995. But the U.S. Congress has never ratified this accord.

In fact, the U.S. is the only country that has refused to embrace the world's most-ratified human rights agreement. It has 196 signatories including all of the UN member states except the U.S. plus some UN observers and non-members, such as Palestine, the Holy See and the South Pacific territories of Cook Islands and Niue.

Empowering Kids to Advocate for Kids

Kids and their communities don't necessarily have to know about the legal details of the treaty to embrace the idea of children's rights and make it their own.

Researchers working in different contexts around the world have found that learning about the convention and their rights increases children's feelings of self-esteem and self-worth, promotes social responsibility and improves their relationships with their schools, teachers and each other.

According to a report from the Centre for Children's Rights at Queen's University Belfast and Save the Children International, a humanitarian nonprofit, it can also motivate kids to stand up for themselves and to defend their peers in the face of discrimination, violence or other rights violations.

In my own research on working children's activism in Peru, kids shared how learning about their rights empowered them to speak out about injustices they encountered in their families, schools and communities.

A boy I'll call Diego, for example, told me that knowing about the convention gave him the confidence to go to his school principal and complain about a teacher who was being verbally abusive toward students. Because of his involvement in an organization that talks about children's rights, he told me he "knew about my right to a quality education, and I knew that we, the students, could defend that right."

Meanwhile, British kids are drawing on the convention in their campaign to lower the fees for citizenship applications. At more than 1,000 British pounds — roughly equal to $1,300 — fees are so high that some British-born children who are eligible for citizenship, and would otherwise become citizens, don't apply.

Children in India have used the convention to persuade their local governments to create children's councils, where kids could be heard by adult political leaders. In the council in the small village of Keradi, children were concerned about alcoholism in their community because they saw it contributing to violence. They raised awareness of the problem and successfully pushed the local government to shut down unlicensed alcohol vendors.

Trying Children and Teens as Adults

If the U.S. were to finally ratify this convention, it could lead to changes in some national, state and local laws.

One notable children's rights violation in the U.S. today is the separation of migrant children from their parents. Others include the practice of trying children as young as 10 years old as adults in criminal courts and locking up minors convicted of crimes in adult prisonsat times in solitary confinement.

To be sure, the U.S. has made some strides toward strengthening children's rights.

In 2005, for example, the Supreme Court removed one of the most significant differences between U.S. law and the convention when it abolished the death penalty for minors. And in 2012 the court ruled that the practice of handing children mandatory life-without-parole sentences is unconstitutional.

Because the international agreement encourages governments to include children's voices in decisions that affect them, I believe that ratification would support efforts by U.S. kids to address the social, environmental and legal problems they care about most. Young activists fighting to advance climate justice, end gun violence and increase racial equity would all have the convention behind them when they speak out.

Jessica Taft is Associate Professor of Latin American & Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Michael Svoboda

The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.

Read More Show Less
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday accused NOAA of ignoring its own scientists' findings about the endangerment of the North Atlantic right whale. Lauren Packard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Beth Ann Mayer

Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.

Read More Show Less
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less