Time for America To Stand Up For Children's Rights
President Bush's recently proposed budget included a $123 million assistance package to fund UNICEF's health, education and protection programs throughout the world this coming fiscal year. We applaud the president for this decision and hope Congress will follow his lead. Allocating funds to secure the health and safety of children is an important step toward the creation of a healthier, safer world.Yet, while multimillion-dollar budget allocations are generous and crucial to UNICEF's efforts, the United States could take an additional simple, crucial step toward improving the state of the world's children. Ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child would demonstrate the United States' commitment to supporting the principles of UNICEF and would not cost the country a cent.
Not many government actions carry such significant consequences and cost so little.
The United States is blocking unanimous global support of this treaty, whose sole purpose is to protect the rights of children, citing concerns about sovereignty, federalism, family planning issues and parental rights. Unbelievably, we are the only nation in the world besides Somalia that has not adopted the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although adoption of this treaty would have a negligible impact on United States policy, it would send a message of concerned compassion to the world.
At a minimum, adoption has the potential to positively affect the lives of millions of children throughout the world and would demonstrate the United States' commitment to constructively interacting with the world's international governing bodies. A universally agreed-upon human rights treaty would be without precedent and would provide a useful framework on which nations and human rights agencies could base their policy. Moreover, the surge in attention that U.S. ratification would bring to the issues of children's rights would undoubtedly bring increased funding and media coverage aimed at promoting policies that protect children's lives.
The need for U.S. adoption of this treaty, and for enforcement of the protections it provides, is clear. According to UNICEF, every year, 2 million children are exploited as part of the global commercial sex industry. Since 1990, more than 1.5 million children have been killed in armed conflict. Even in the U.S., children are susceptible to harms beyond their control. For example, an estimated 1,400 American children die each year from abuse and neglect.
Ten years ago, Congress recognized the seriousness of this situation when it debated Rep. Bernard Sanders' call for ratification of the convention. A decade later, there is continuing reason for the United States to use its position as a world leader and take decisive action to protect children. Yet, during President Bush's tenure, Congress has not once considered ratifying this treaty.
It is our hope that a member of the 110th Congress will recognize the importance of the convention and assume leadership in this area. In the arena of global diplomacy, there are moments when actions can speak as loudly as dollars.
Joshua T. Lozman and Lainie Rutkow are Sommer scholars and doctoral students at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
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