Monday, 5 August 2013

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - Do children have rights?

I have become very interested in what rights children have. Here is the link to the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child:

The CRC says that: 
  • Childhood is entitled to special care and assistance
  • Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community - the family, the natural environment for the growth and well-being of children, should be afforded the protection and assistance to assume its responsibilities (emphasis mine)
  • Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding
  • Considering that the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity
  • the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth

Article 2
1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. - the child's right should be ensured despite the parent's religion (emphasis and paraphrase mine)

Article 3
1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Article 5
States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, 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.

Article 9
1. States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child's place of residence. - children can be removed from their parents against their will if it is determined to be in the best interest of the child (emphasis and paraphrase mine)
Article 12
1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

Article 13
1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.

Article 14
1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.

Article 18
1. States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern. - the best interest of the child will be primary concern of those with the responsibility for the upbringing of the child - this appears to be a hope and belief, not a guarantee (emphasis and paraphrase mine)

Article 19
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

Article 20
1. A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.

Article 27
1. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
2. The parent(s) or others responsible for the child have the primary responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child's development.

Article 28
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:
(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;

Article 31
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Article 32
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

Article 39
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.

                                                                 * * * * * * * * * * * 

I have used the United Nations convention because this issue is prevalent in both the US and Canada, and the convention supposedly guides both these nations. As shown in the summary of the convention, there are certain rights a member nation is required to provide to children, but in most cases, there is an assumption that parents would only ever be interested in the best interests of their own children, and therefore can be entrusted even if their actions appears to circumvent the child's rights. This is not a promise to children that they will be provided for, it is a hope for the best that their parents will do the right thing. 

Is it in the best interest of children to simply hope that parents will have their own children's best interests at heart. When I was university for Social Work, we were told to assume that all parents love their children, and therefore have the best interest of children at heart. Abuse and neglect were largely attributed to life circumstances that are preventing them from realizing the best interests of the child. I think that in the vast majority of child abuse and neglect cases, this is the case. And in cases where there is a mental illness, alcoholism, and neglect, the government usually makes provision for the parent to fix their problems and resume parenting with the child best interests. 

There are parents out there that subscribe to radical conservative Biblical ideology. This ideology spells out the rights of the parents, and the responsibility of the children to submit to the parents (and gender based discrimination, but that is another topic). The Bible contains many verses that describe the complete obedience of children. I will generally reference a great deal of the book of Proverbs here, but in particular chapter 6, verse 20: "my son obey your father's commands, and do not neglect your mother's teachings". There are far fewer verses detailing the responsibilities of parents towards their children, for example: "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?" Matthew7:9. If a family subscribes to an ideology in which the primary concern of the father is to uphold his own wishes, even at the expense of the children's needs, how can they be trusted to uphold the best interests of the child in the spirit of this convention?

Because abuse in such a household is hard to detect, this convention does not adequately deal with the conflicting provisions of family control and best interests of the child. These concepts or provisions are at odds in such families. Children are also not prepared to live in society when raised in this type of environment. Because children are usually kept in the home environment by making them afraid of the outside world, they are unnecessarily terrorized about the world.

Homeschooling is often upheld as part of the rights of parents to provide for their own children. The convention says that an education is a right for children and is compulsory. Many homeschooling parents do an adequate job in providing an elementary education for their children. However, without adequate supervision, it is impossible to tell how many such children are adequately educated and how many are not, and there is not sufficient evidence at this time to know the psychological effects of homeschooling on children.

Without adequate enforcement, the caveats made in this convention that are intended to protect the family unit in fact protect the parents, and simply hope for the best that the parents will protect their own children. No one protects the children unless a sufficient case can be made for the government to step in and separate the parents from their children. Therefore it does not appear that children’s rights are safe guarded unless their condition is so dire as so demand dramatic intervention.

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