Only the U.S. and Somalia have refused to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child
Quoting Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution — which says that all treaties made under the authority of the United States shall be "the supreme law of the land" — Schlafly said if the CRC is ratified then the U.S will sign away any authority it has over children's rights, with federal laws being changed to meet the criteria in the CRC.
But Jonathan Todres, an associate professor of law at Georgia State University and coeditor of a book on the CRC and the possible implications of its ratification, told us that's a "misunderstanding" of the process involved. He said the CRC would almost certainly be ratified as a "non-self-executing treaty." That means that although the U.S will have to comply with international law, it would not take effect domestically until the U.S. adopts legislation to fulfill treaty obligations.
He added that the United States also has the right to add reservations to the treaty if there are any articles that might conflict with U.S. law. For example, Article 37 of the CRC indicates that no "life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age," something that certain states in the U.S still impose.
Despite supporters' desire for a "magic bullet" that will improve the lives of children in the U.S., they said the treaty will operate as a template for the government to assess how well U.S. law protects children. While Article 24 decrees that "states parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to ... health care services," ratification will not mean an immediate implementation of universal health care for the 8 million to 9 million children who do not have access to it, campaigners say.
"It in itself can't change law. It is a road map that informs a dialogue around the way we treat children," said Vienna Colucci, managing director and senior advisor for policy for Amnesty International. "It is a set of principles for the well-being of children, to help inform national discussions about what they really need to thrive. But any implementation of laws go through the same process any bill would."
The U.S already has ratified the two Optional Protocols of the Children's Convention, including the protocol on the sexual exploitation of children and enlisting children as soldiers, strengthening the exploitation protocol by adopting the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Todres said this should be used as an example of what ratifying the entire CRC could do.
Many who oppose the CRC fear it will diminish the rights of the parent, such as when it comes to disciplining children. Article 9, which says children can be separated from their parents against their will when "competent authorities subject to judicial review" determine it is in their best interest, is often cited as a loss of parental freedom.
In March of this year Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) put forward a brief Parental Rights Amendment to the CRC, asserting that "the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children is a fundamental right," and deauthorizing the ratification of a treaty that would infringe on such rights.
According to Michael Ramey, spokesman at Parentalrights.org — an organization that claims to "protect children by empowering parents" and an affiliate of the Home School Legal Defense Association — the amendment currently only has six cosponsors in the Senate, a far cry from the two-thirds majority it would need to pass.
"This really is not a question of whether the CRC is all that bad or kind of bad. It is whether it is an improvement for us on what we have now," he told us. "We already have laws in place against child abuse and neglect in all 50 states and we don't gain anything by ratifying. None of the good parts of the convention are missing from U.S law."