A Threat to America: the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child

Author: Charles Francis


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 very significant.

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 nature.

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 federal laws.

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 "Familiaris Consortio."

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 characters.

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 reservation:

"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 (Article 16)."

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 ten years.

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 by: The Population Research Institute P.O. Box 2024 Baltimore, MD 21298-9559 301-670-1864

The Population Research Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan research group that carries out research on population, development and environmental issues in the sciences, the professions, and in areas of public policy. Suggested donation: $25.00 per year.