A THREAT TO AMERICA: THE U.N. CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
by Charles Francis, Esq.
During the American Presidential election campaign last November, voters
became aware that if they voted for Bill Clinton they would be getting
Hillary Clinton too. It was never clear whether this was an inducement or
a threat, but in the context of matters pertaining to children's rights
Hillary Clinton's views would now appear to loom large. Although not a
member of the executive branch, she may well be regarded as the most
appropriate expert to advise the president in this area. Consequently in
the American context her views on children's rights are likely to prove
Writing in "Harper's Magazine" in October 1992, Christopher Lasch,
professor of history at the University of Rochester, pointed out that
Hillary Clinton's writings exemplify the view of families that so many
working people find objectionable. He says "from her perspective the
'traditional' family is, for the most part, an institution in need of
therapy, an institution that stands in the way of children's rights--and
an obstacle to enlightened progress."
During her professional career Mrs. Clinton has played an active part in
the movement for children's rights, a movement she saw as the logical
extension of earlier movements through which civil rights were extended to
slaves and women. From 1986 to 1991 she chaired the Children's Defense
Fund (CDF) and was succeeded in that post by her friend Donna Shalala (now
Secretary of Health and Human Services). In "Children Under the Law"
Hillary Clinton wrote that children should no longer be considered legally
incompetent. She spoke of the "pretence that childrens' issues are somehow
above or beyond politics" and complained that the pretense was reinforced
by the belief that families are private, non-political units, whose
interests subsume those of children. She contends that since children have
interests demonstrably independent of those of (their) parents they cannot
be represented by anyone other than themselves. However, it would seem
implicit in this contention that children will need state advisers to
assist them in the exercise of their rights, so that almost inevitably the
state bureaucracy will invade family life.
Early this century most western countries established juvenile courts,
which tended to transfer the custody or control of juvenile delinquents to
governmental institutions, often to the detriment of both children and
parents. For this problem Mrs. Clinton proposes a new solution--to give
children and adolescents the same rights as adults and to integrate them
as fully as possible into the adversarial system of justice.
She also strongly supports the dissenting judgment of Justice William O.
Douglas in "Wisconsin v. Yoder" (1972), where Justice Douglas expressed
the view that children should be entitled to be heard on the question of
whether they shared their parents religious beliefs. Like Douglas, Hillary
Clinton is critical of the family wherever it tries to harness children to
whatever may (in her opinion) be a narrow, stultifying view of life.
In a society which finds appeal to individual rights irresistible, Hillary
Clinton's argument suggests she objects to control of children by the
family much more than she objects to control by the State. She urges, as
her panacea, that the United States now needs a "comprehensive child care
program." To justify her proposal, the American people will, no doubt, be
told that childrens' rights legislation is necessary because there is so
much child abuse in the world today. In fact such legislation will
probably provide little real protection against the physical abuse of
children's bodies. On the other hand the United Nation's Convention on the
Rights of the Child, (the Convention) will, certainly facilitate the abuse
of children's minds. Mrs. Clinton's views (as summarized by Professor
Lasch) indicate some of the frightening possibilities, should the American
government seek to adopt and implement that Convention.
The Convention was adopted by the U.N. on the 20th November 1989, an
international treaty radically different from the original U.N.
"Declaration of the Rights of the Child" 1959 which was, for the most
part, a valuable document. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child (the
forerunner of the present Convention) set out ten important principles.
Those principles (such as Principal 6 which stated that the child "shall
wherever possible grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his
parents") were essentially Judeo/Christian in their philosophy. At the
time of the Declaration it was envisaged there would be further more
detailed provisions, but the 1989 Convention, which was drafted in the
1980s, was a totally different document and, in essence, humanist in its
Under its foreign affairs power the Australian Government signed and later
ratified the Convention as did more than 100 foreign governments. The
Treaty was "acceded to" by the Vatican which stated firm reservations to
the interpretation of a number of the articles in the Convention.
President George Bush, however, did not sign the Treaty nor did he send it
to the Senate for ratification.
The CDF is now pushing hard to have this United Nations Convention signed
and adopted in the United States so that child advocacy lawyers can assert
children's rights against children's parents. Under the American
Constitution foreign treaties can be ratified at any time by two-thirds of
the U.S. senators present and voting. Once ratified, treaties then become
part of the supreme law of the land along with the U.S. Constitution and
Most Americans do not believe that individual rights originate with the
government, but rather that they are inalienable rights coming from their
Creator, and may not be impaired without due process of law. This
philosophy of government was spelled out in the Declaration of
Independence and by implication in the United States Constitution. Even
the somewhat secular minded Thomas Jefferson paid homage to this
philosophy when he said, "The only firm basis of freedom is a conviction
in the minds of people that their liberties are the gifts of God."
Ironically if there be no God, our only liberties are those reluctantly
wrung (and often but temporarily) from the all powerful State. The U.N.
Convention on the Rights of the Child, is based on a very different
concept, namely that a child's rights should originate with the U.N.
Treaty itself, or with the governments of the ratifying countries.
To those of us in Australia who studied the Articles of the Convention it
seemed that the Australian Federal Government had, by ratifying the treaty
under the foreign affairs power of our Constitution, assumed to itself
rights which it never had under the Australian Constitution. Equally it
would seem in the United States, Congress could invade whole new areas
such as control of school curriculums (under Articles 28 and 29) or the
setting up of a national system of day care for children under Article 18.
Article 18 requires state parties to take all appropriate measures to
ensure that "children of working parents have the right to benefit from
those child care services and facilities for which they are eligible.-' As
in many other countries the Australian experience of day care centers
funded by government (whether federal, state or municipal) indicates that
where the husband is the main or sole breadwinner, the added tax burden of
providing those facilities for others increasingly drives mothers of quite
young children into the work force.
Some articles of the convention are praiseworthy, as for example, its
prohibition on slavery and child prostitution. For parents, however,
Articles 12-16 could create grave difficulties in their relationships with
their children. These articles appear to be the spearhead of a very
serious invasion of parental rights. Prominent American Christian leader
Dr. James Dobson states unequivocally that these articles will drive a
wedge between parents and children. It is also apparent that these
articles are diametrically opposed to the notions of parental rights
expressed in Catholic papal encyclicals such as, "Humanae Vitae" and
Article 12 is the first in this chain of five articles which provides a
libertarian charter of children's rights. Its implications therefore
require some close attention. Article 12 assures to a child the right to
express "views freely in all matters affecting the child, [State Parties
shall assure the] views of the child being given due weight in accordance
with the age and maturity of the child." But who is to determine what
weight is to be attached to those views? Obviously not the parents alone.
While the purpose behind this Article is not necessarily to immediately
lay down the law on any topic within the home, as for example, the time at
which a 14-year-old girl is required to be home in the evening,
nevertheless, there is at least a charter for protracted debate. It seems
that Article 12 was included as a preliminary right to enable children to
ventilate elsewhere their disagreement with parental rulings. Because
Article 12 couples within it an insistence on the right of the child "to
be heard in judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child,"
it is apparent that the intention of this Article does not simply relate
to such matters as the child's right to be heard in relation to custody in
divorce proceedings between parents, which are judicial "not"
administrative proceedings. Article 12 is thus plainly a preliminary right
which, "inter alia," will enable the child to enforce the rights
guaranteed by Articles 13-16 in proceedings against the child's parents.
Article 13 assures to the child the right to "freedom of expression,"
which is declared to include "freedom to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas of all kinds.' In practice it would seem Article 13
will make it impossible for parents to resist the exposure of their
children in schools and elsewhere to material which many parents may
legitimately find objectionable on religious, moral or other grounds.
As we now live in communities in which homosexuality is legal, and as our
governments have been at pains to remove any stigma from homosexual and
lesbian activities, (even to the extent of providing funds for such
groups) it would seem abundantly clear that the active promotion of the
notion of homosexuality as a valid lifestyle is now regarded as a lawful
activity. The right of the child to receive such information, if the child
wishes to receive it, would appear to be guaranteed by Article 13 of the
U.N. Convention regardless of the wishes of the parents. If such a
viewpoint was being taught within a school, that fact might not
necessarily be drawn to the attention of the parents at all, but if it
were, it is probable the parents would have no right to intervene.
No longer will a parent necessarily have the right to withdraw a child
from extra curricular classes, such as sex education, if the parent
disapproves of the manner in which the subject is taught. The parent who
sought to prevent a teacher informing his 14 year-old son that he should
consider adopting a gay lifestyle could be at risk of being held to be in
breach of the Convention. Thus, although our children's bodies may still
be protected by the criminal law, we are no longer provided with any
adequate protection to prevent the pollution of their minds.
Insofar as Article 13 places any restriction on the right of the child to
receive information, that restriction must not only be "provided by law"
but it must also be found to be "necessary." Presumably in the future it
will be a government body or official who will determine whether or not
the restriction is necessary. That would appear to give such a body or
officer the right to override particular state or federal laws on subjects
such as pornography, where that board or officer held an opinion different
from that of the legislature.
In this context it is not without significance to consider some of the
information for children already provided by agencies of the United
Nations. It would be reasonable to assume that the Convention would
support the unrestricted dissemination of U.N. material. Various
U.N.-associated non-governmental agencies, such as the International
Planned Parenthood Federation and Populations Communications
International, engage in information, education, communication' (IEC)
programs designed to change the values of the people. Such programs
propagandize on behalf of population control policies which include the
dissemination of birth control technologies. The United Nations Children's
Fund (UNICEF), working with CARE, designed, produced and distributed a
seven-issue series on "awareness of population growth" for use in primary
school systems ("Inventory of Population Projects," UNFPA, 1989-90, 296).
Various national governments also intervene in countries with United
Nations' assistance. One example of this is the Japanese Organization for
International Cooperation in Family Planning JOICFP). JOICFP produced two
sex education films "The Blue Pigeon" and "Music for Two" to which many
parents may take strong objection. "The Blue Pigeon" is a cartoon targeted
at 10 to 12-year-old children, which graphically depicts sexual
intercourse between two children attending a children's picnic. "Music
for Two" depicts the fantasies of a young girl. In her fantasy as a
married woman she sees herself as tired, overworked and overburdened, with
an indifferent and uninterested husband. By contrast sexual intercourse
with a boy neighbor is graphically depicted as a happy commitment-free
sexual relationship. These films, also purchased by UNICEF, were used to
'teach' Guatemalan and Mexican school children (Patricia Poppe, Luis Maria
Aller Atucha, "Integrated project and IEC materials in Guatemala and
Mexico," 17 Nov.-- 14 Dec. 1991, JOICFP).
Presumably children will not however be "protected" from receiving such
information, nor will they necessarily be protected from blasphemous or
other offensive material, any prevention of reception being "prima facie"
an express breach of Article 13. It is not information such as this which
children need, but rather the proper and constructive formation of their
Article 14 declares the "right of the child to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion." By the terms of the Convention parents and
guardians are afforded only the limited right to direct children in the
exercise of this right. Nor is any real protection given even to that
limited right. It is one to which the State "gives respect," but the right
cannot be enforced and in its entire context "giving respect" appears to
be almost valueless. As the only parental right mentioned in Article 14 is
the right of parents to direct, it seems implicit that a parent in the
future will not be able to require a young child to go to church or Sunday
school, if the child does not wish to do so. Dr. James Dobson, head of
Focus on the Family, has suggested that the real freedom given by Article
14 is a freedom from any form of parental control, and suggests that the
parental role under the Convention is only to provide a state-monitored
influence. There appears to be no parental right to control the child's
practice of a religion, a posthumous victory for Justice Douglas, which
would overturn the majority judgment in "Wisconsin v. Yoder."
Parents may also find that Article 14 can create difficulties for them if
they are confronted with a relatively young child who wishes to join some
fringe religious sect, or an adolescent who wants to associate with a
satanic cult. The parent would have a right to advise, but not necessarily
any right to intervene. As children increasingly become aware of the
contents of Article 14, it will become a growing difficulty for parents
who try to encourage their children to adhere to the traditional religious
practices of the family. Satanic cults are particularly interested in
young adolescents and will no doubt, soon be aware of the misuse that can
be made of Article 14 by enabling strangers to attract children away from
the religion of the family.
Article 15 "recognizes" the rights of the child to freedom of association
and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Such rights will make it
difficult for parents to resist associations by their children with
persons whom parents find objectionable or whom they consider (perhaps
with complete justification) to be a bad influence on their children.
The right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of peaceful
assembly seem peculiarly inappropriate rights to be given to young
children or adolescents. Nor are the rights in this instance qualified by
any parental right, the right being one to be exercised in accordance with
the age and maturity of the child. These rights are as unfettered as the
corresponding rights of any adult. When this article becomes law
presumably we can look forward to marches and demonstrations in our cities
organized by children. Neither parents nor teachers would necessarily have
any power or right to prevent children participating in such activities.
Governments are committed, as part of the Convention, to teaching
children, even at primary level, about these various rights. In Australia
some material has now been prepared for this purpose. As a consequence
some parents in our country have already been confronted with the
situation in which children have come home and announced that they will no
longer perform those household duties which have been allocated to them
within the home because they have now become informed at school of their
"human rights." This new right of freedom of association, coupled with the
child's knowledge of that right, will make it virtually impossible for
parents to prevent inappropriate and even harmful associations.
Article 16 includes protection of the child's right not to be "subjected
to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy." The
inclusion of the word "arbitrary" may permit children to resist intrusion
by parents into anything that children consider to be private to them,
including medical treatments. It is not impossible that this could also
include any intrusions in areas of the family home normally set aside for
the use of the child. The medical practitioner, who without the parents'
knowledge and without reference to them provides a 13-year old- daughter
with the "pill," could no doubt justify his or her conduct by the verbiage
of Article 16. Indeed any communication by the medical practitioner to the
parents might be an offense when this Convention becomes law. This Article
would greatly strengthen the position of Planned Parenthood, which has
already pursued the practice of putting relatively young girls on "the
pill" without reference to their parents.
While some of the rights set out in Articles 12 to 16 are subject to vague
qualifications, such as the need to protect public safety, order, health
or morals, they make quite inadequate provision for any subjective
judgment by parents as to what is in the best interests of their children.
These were some of the Articles for which the Vatican required an express
"The Holy See, in conformity with the dispositions of Article
51, accedes to the Convention on the Rights of the Child with
the following reservations: ....(b) that it interprets the
Articles of the Convention in a way that safeguards the primary
and inalienable rights of parents, in particular insofar as
these rights concern education (Articles 13 and 28) religion
(Article 14) association with others (Article 15) and privacy
Such reservations (or qualifications) entirely change the legal effect of
those Articles, but no such qualification was ever introduced into the
Convention. It is difficult to see how those responsible for drafting the
Convention would not be aware that its' articles, without such
qualification, overrode parental rights. In fact, Articles 12-16 could
certainly be used to facilitate the corruption of a nation's youth, and
may well effect a process of addicting them to artificially constructed
'privileges and rights.'
Article 17 of the Convention entrusts to the mass media a responsibility
for providing children with information and material for their "social,
spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health." Much of
the material produced by the mass media in the last decade, however,
raises serious doubts s to the desirability of entrusting any functions of
this nature to it.
Supporters of the Convention will, of course, immediately point to Article
5 as being a safeguard for the rights of parents. A careful analysis of
the wording of Article 5 coupled with the normal canons of legal
interpretation suggest, however, that Article 5 is probably of very little
value at all. Because Articles 12-16 appear after Article 5 in the
Convention rather than before it, and insofar as their provisions appear
to be inconsistent with the provisions of Article 5, they override it.
Article 5 requires the State party to the Convention to respect the rights
of parents "to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving
capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the
exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present convention."
It is to be noted however, that the right to assert parental authority
over the child is omitted from Article 5.
It is also apparent that the right of parents to direct and guide children
in the exercise of the sweeping new rights now granted to them under the
Convention will be constrained by the requirements that such parental
direction and guidance be "appropriate" and also "in a manner consistent
with the evolving capacities of the child." But, who decides what is
either "appropriate" or "consistent with the child's evolving capacities?"
This requirement clearly suggests that parental conduct will be subject to
external scrutiny. Indeed it is implicit in the Convention that the
signatories to it will monitor parents within their countries to ensure
compliance with the Convention. If the new rights are to be meaningful,
obviously the child must have a right of appeal against parental direction
or guidance, whenever it is considered by the child to be unfair or
perhaps even merely irksome. Presumably it will be to some designated
government board, official or judicial body. We can look forward therefore
to new bureaucracies which will investigate children's complaints,
question parents whenever they think it appropriate, and arbitrate family
disputes utilizing the standards established under the Convention. It
would be a bureaucracy, which in the hands of an empire builder, has
virtually unlimited scope for expansion.
Other articles, such as Article 24 which grants the right to "health care
services" including "preventive health care, guidance for parents and
family planning education and services," raise serious questions. The
long-term record of U.N. organizations and U.N.-sponsored bodies, which
provide IUDs, injectables, abortion and sterilization programs in Third
World countries, demonstrates pressing concerns about human rights
violations linked to so-called "family planning" programs.
Congressman Thomas J. Bliley, Jr. (R-Va.) has rightly sounded a very
strong warning against the Convention. Representative Bliley has said,
"Ratification [of the Convention] is not about children. It is about
power. It is a potential threat to some of our most precious freedoms,
civil liberties and our form of government."
The Convention is a serious invasion of parental rights. A careful
analysis of its terms raises the implication that, despite its frequent
lip service to the parental role, its ultimate enforcement may well prove
to be anti-parent, and that many important decisions on the appropriate
education, philosophy, morality and religion for all children will finally
be vested in the State.
While Bill and Hillary Clinton were loud in the praise of their own
parents during the 1992 election campaign, Hillary's writings and history
suggest a lack of enthusiasm for the parental role as exercised by many
parents. Perhaps Hillary should have stayed at home longer. America's
great home-spun philosopher Mark Twain said that when he was 20 his father
was so ignorant he could not bear to have him around, yet by the time Mark
Twain was 30 he was amazed at how much the old man had learned in the last
Of the 21 major civilizations which the world has seen, nineteen were
destroyed from within. In each of those 19 instances the breakdown of the
family played a significant part in the process of destruction. The U.N.
Convention on the Rights of the Child has the gravest potential to damage,
if not destroy, the family as we know it, which in truth might well lead
to the ultimate destruction of the American nation, the greatest nation
the world has yet seen.
Charles Francis is a practicing attorney and author. Both his residence
and practice are located in Melbourne, Australia.
This article appeared in the November/December 1993 issue of the
"Population Research Institute Review". PRI Review is published bi-monthly
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