The Children's Defense Fund (CDF), the chief vehicle
for those who want government to take over the raising of
children, has a new goal under the Clinton Administration.
Having failed to get Congress to pass the costly ABC
Child Care bill, the CDF is now pushing to get a United
Nations treaty on children signed and adopted so that
child-advocacy lawyers can assert "children's rights"
against their parents. Since Hillary Clinton was chair of
CDF's board of directors from 1986 to 1991, and since she
was succeeded as CDF chair in 1991 by Donna Shalala
(now Secretary of HHS), and since CDF's CEO, Marian
Wright Edelman, is Hillary's close friend, we can
anticipate an aggressive effort by the Clinton
Administration on behalf of this treaty.
The treaty is called the United Nations Convention on
the Rights of the Child. It was unanimously adopted by
the U.N. General Assembly on November 20, 1989 and
signed by more than 100 foreign governments. President
George Bush did not sign the Treaty or send it to the
Senate for ratification. There are dozens of excellent
reasons to reject it.
If the text of the U.N. Treaty were proposed as new
federal legislation, the bill would never pass. It would be
unacceptable to the American people because it would give
the Federal Government too broad a grant of power over
our children, families and schools, and it would be
unconstitutional because of both vagueness and federal
interference with states' rights.
But the treaty has been blessed by the United Nations
and layered with lofty goals and high-sounding words. Its
salesmen are peddling it with pathetic stories of the
mistreatment of children, such as outrageous murders in
Bolivia. CDF and 150 liberal advocacy groups in the
United States have made it a "cause" and are even using
it as a litmus test to try to label Congressmen as "pro-children" or
It is always important to scrutinize proposed treaties
even more carefully than ordinary legislation, first, because
treaties can be ratified at any time by two-thirds of U.S.
Senators present and voting (e.g., with two Senators voting
aye and one Senator voting no), and second, because of
the preferential status which treaties enjoy in the American
system of government. Once ratified, they become part of
the "supreme law of the land," along with the U.S.
Constitution and federal laws.
Any time a treaty is proposed, we should study the
language, as well as the intent, and consider a worst case
scenario of how the treaty's provisions - in the hands of
international bodies (over which we have no control) -
could imperil American sovereignty and the rights of
The American philosophy of government, as spelled out
in the Declaration of Independence and the United States
Constitution, is that the individual's inalienable rights to
life, liberty and property come to each of us from our
Creator and may not be impaired without due process of
law, and that the prime purpose of government is to
guarantee those rights. Americans do not believe that
individual rights originate with the government, the United
Nations, kings, rulers, or even society.
The United States Constitution lists several rights that
Americans can assert against our government; then the
Ninth Amendment adds, "The enumeration in the
Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to
deny or disparage others retained by the people." The
U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the other
hand, purports to be a comprehensive listing of all rights
of the child, and is based on the concept that a child's
rights originate with the U.N. Treaty itself or with the
government. The logical conclusion is that a child would
have no rights except those in the Treaty, and what
government gives, government also can take away.
If this U.N. Treaty is ever written into American law -
a treaty which assumes that government is the source of
the listed "rights" - this can only diminish the status of
existing American rights. Since U.N. treaties, courts, and
bureaucracies do not respect our American philosophy of
individual rights, it would badly curtail our liberty to
submit ourselves to a U.N. document interpreted by
Who Will Enforce the Rights?
The next problem with the U.N. Convention on the
Rights of the Child is, who is to be the enforcer of the
Treaty's rights - and against whom are they to be
enforced? In American constitutional law, the right of free
speech, for example, is a right which the individual can
assert against government encroachment. This U.N. Treaty
doesn't say who is to enforce the child's rights against
whom, but it is reasonable to infer that many of these
rights are to be enforced against the parents, probably with
the help of government.
The Treaty purports to give the child the right to
express his own views freely in all matters (Article 12), to
receive information of all kinds through "media of the
child's choice" (Article 13), to freedom of religion (Article
14), to be protected from interference with his
correspondence (Article 16), to have access to information
from national and international sources in the media
(Article 17), to use his "own language" (Article 30), and
to have the right to "rest and leisure" (Article 31).
What do all these rights mean, how will they be
enforced, and against whom? Does this mean that the
child can refuse to do his homework and household chores
because they interfere with his "right" to rest and leisure?
And can he demand a government-paid lawyer to file a
lawsuit against his parents?
Does this mean that a child has the right to use his
native language in school and cannot be required to speak
English? Does it mean that a child can demand the right
to watch television in order to receive media reports from
national and international sources?
Does this mean that a child can assert his right to say
anything he wants to his parents at the dinner table? Does
this mean that the government will assist the child to join
a cult or select a different church from the one his parents
attend? The U.N. Treaty does not provide answers to
These are just a few of the literally dozens of brand
new "rights of the child" scattered throughout the 54
Articles of the U.N. Treaty, which is longer than the entire
U.S. Constitution. Despite a vague reference to undefined
"rights and duties of parents," the Treaty does not
recognize any specific parental right to make decisions for
their minor children.
The Grab for Power Over Education
Suppose Congress were to consider legislation to set up
a procedure for the Federal Government (or the U.S.
Department of Education) to define the content of the
education of every child. Imagine the howls that would go
up as parents and concerned citizens protest that Congress
has no business prescribing school curriculum. From all
sides, we would hear citizens reassert their dedication to
local control of education. Private schools would express
fear that they would become an endangered species.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child
prescribes the content of what must be taught to all
children in several sensitive areas. Article 28 prescribes
that "the education of the child shall be directed to" such
things as "the principles enshrined in the Charter of the
United Nations"; respect for "the national values of the
country ... from which he or she may originate, and for
civilizations different from his or her own" (that means
adopting the controversial curricular approach known as
"global education" or "multiculturalism"); "equality of
sexes" (that means promoting the Equal Rights
Amendment which was rejected by the American people
in 1982); and "the development of respect for the natural
environment" (certainly one of the most politically-charged
issues in the United States).
The U.N. Treaty recognizes that private schools may
exist, but only so long as they teach the above subjects and
otherwise conform to government standards.
The American people would not permit Congress to
prescribe what all our children must learn on these
sensitive issues, so we certainly don't want the United
Nations to lay down the law. But, if this U.N. Treaty is
ratified, dictatorial control over all school curriculum will
become part of the supreme law of the land.
The Treaty's Expensive Obligations
In several sections, the U.N. Treaty imposes on the
government the obligation to "strive to ensure," to "render
appropriate assistance," and to "take all appropriate
measures" so that children may enjoy certain economic
benefits. Article 4 states that the government "shall
undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and
other measures" to implement "economic, social and
cultural rights." Furthermore, the government "shall
undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their
These expensive responsibilities include "health care
services" (Article 24), social security (Article 26), and an
"adequate" standard of living, nutrition, clothing and
housing (Article 27).
What does this language really mean? The big-spending liberals will surely argue that the Treaty will require our government to impose new taxes - or go
further into debt - to carry out these obligations.
The Treaty's Daycare Obligations
The U.N. Treaty would probably require us to set up a
national system of daycare. Article 18 says that the
government "shall ensure the development of institutions,
facilities and services for the care of children . . . of
working parents." The Treaty gives the children the right
to benefit from these services and facilities.
What does the U.N. Treaty mean when it requires
universal legal standards for the care and protection of
children against neglect, exploitation, and abuse? Is it
"neglect" not to establish government daycare centers? Or
is it "neglect" to put children in daycare centers where
they are exposed to more illnesses? Shall we leave this up
to United Nations judges or "experts" to decide?
The Treaty even obligates the government to ensure
"standards" for child care institutions, services and
facilities. National daycare standards were part of the
ABC Child Care bill and were a major reason why, after
lengthy debate, Congress specifically rejected this approach
in its 1990 legislation. Are we now to have Congress
overridden by a United Nations mandate?
The U.N. Treaty grants the child the right to be
protected against neglect or negligent treatment (Article
19). Could homeschoolers be charged with "neglect" for
not sending their children to an institutional school? Or
for not sending children to school until age seven or eight?
Opening Up New Litigation
Unlike our U.S. Constitution, which only mentions
rights that can be enforced against the government, the
U.N. Treaty declares "rights of the child" against parents,
the family, private institutions, and society as a whole.
Since the Treaty is a legal document which, if ratified,
would become part of the "supreme law of the land," we
can expect ACLU lawyers to bring a series of test cases to
see how far the courts will extend its provisions. The
Convention would open up a Pandora's box of litigation,
either in some international court or in U.S. courts, or
both. It's hard to say which venue would be worse.
International courts are frequently biased against
Americans. Several years ago when the World Court
treated the United States unfairly, the Reagan
Administration simply thumbed its nose at the Court.
Another administration might have acquiesced in the unfair
treatment. Every day, U.S. courts hand down decisions
which become law in our country, and it is not in the
interests of American citizens to have those decisions
grounded in United Nations treaties rather than in U.S.
Americans will be in for a shock if judges around the
country start applying this U.N. Treaty as the supreme law
of our land. It is full of vague requirements which are
susceptible to different and even contradictory
For example, Article 24(3) requires the government to
"take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to
abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of
children." What kind of standard is that? The practice
doesn't have to be harmful or even negligent, but merely
"prejudicial," and this new "standard" would be defined by
What will it mean to enforce Article 28, which makes
"primary education compulsory and available free to all"?
Will that make it compulsory to give subsidies to private
or religious schools - and if so, will they be required to
modify their religious practices? Or, will Article 28 ban
private and religious schools altogether? Either outcome
would override existing Supreme Court decisions. Do we
want United Nations courts to answer these questions?
A New International Bureaucracy
Of course, all these grandiose U.N. Treaty goals would
not be complete without the establishment of a new
international bureaucracy and mechanism of control. The
U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child would set up
a Committee on the Rights of the Child consisting of ten
"experts" chosen by secret ballot from a list of nominees
submitted by the governments that sign the Treaty. Of
course, there is no assurance that any American will be on
this committee of experts, not even any assurance that
even one "expert" will be friendly to American institutions
and traditions. (Articles 43 and 44)
The Secretary-General of the United Nations will
provide "the necessary staff and facilities" which will
assist the committee of experts in monitoring and reporting
on "the degree of fulfillment of the obligations"
established under the Treaty. We cannot assume that this
would be merely an expensive exercise in international
busybodyism, because this is not merely a treaty of
generalized hopes; it is full of mandatory words such as
"rights" and "obligations."
Contradictory Abortion Provisions
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child is
vague, misleading and contradictory on the fundamental
issue of whether or not an unborn child is accorded any
rights. Whatever the American people ultimately decide
about this issue, the decision-making power should not rest
with a United Nations treaty.
Some argue that this Treaty probably creates an across-
the-board right to abortion that would override U.S. law
and Supreme Court decisions. Others argue that the Treaty
may give the same rights to the unborn child and to the
born child. Five provisions deal with this issue.
Language in the Preamble asserts the child's right to
"appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth."
However, it can be argued that the Preamble would have
no legal effect. The language is so vague that it also could
be argued that such rights would inure only if the child
were subsequently born alive.
Article 6 states that every child has a "right to life."
However, whenever the "right to life" has been challenged
by a "right to privacy," U.S. courts have come down on
the side of abortion rather than respecting the life of the
Article 16 purports to establish the child's right to
"privacy." Under U.S. Supreme Court decisions, "privacy"
is the operative word which has created the right to
abortion. We can be sure that lawyers will argue that the
Treaty creates a federal statutory right to "privacy" which
can subsequently be used by the courts to include abortion.
Article 24(f) grants the right to "family planning
education and services." This language is generally used
as a legal rationale for abortion services.
Article 2 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
Several U.S. courts have held that, where a private or
government employer provides health care or insurance
coverage for other types of medical services, such
language creates a right to paid abortions. The rationale
is that, because only women can have abortions, denying
funding for abortions discriminates against women on
account of their sex.
When the Senate on September 11, 1990 considered
passage of a resolution calling on the President to send the
Convention on the Rights of the Child to the Senate,
Senator Jesse Helms offered an amendment to ensure that
the treaty would not interfere with the rights of unborn
children. The Helms amendment was defeated, creating
the legislative inference that the Senate was not willing to
go on record as stating that the Convention would not
impact the abortion issue.
A Congressman's Warning
Congressman Thomas J. Bliley Jr. is one of the few
Congressmen who have taken the time to study the U.N.
Convention on the Rights of the Child. He has issued a
strong warning against its dangers, saying: "Ostensibly, it
would create new national and international roles for
governments to secure a child's right to such fundamental
necessities as nutrition, health care, housing and
education." But, he points out, laudable as these goals are,
the U.N. Treaty creates just as many "confusing
For example, he asks, what will it really mean if the
United States must comply with Article 28(2), which states
that the government "shall take all appropriate measures to
ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner
consistent with the child's human dignity and in
conformity with" the Treaty? Are we willing to give an
international committee the authority to monitor such a
"protection"? Do these "rights" have real meaning, or are
they just a "slick public-relations campaign" by those
trying to make political capital out of pretending to support
Congressman Bliley warns: "The Convention
represents a potential threat to our form of government.
As written, it places government in a superior position to
its citizens by granting these rights to children. What is so
bad about that? Such an interpretation is antithetical to
our limitations on government. Many of these 'rights' are
not presently found in our Constitution, but rather, are
considered to be among our inalienable rights endowed by
"More practically speaking," Congressman Bliley
continues, "the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the
Constitution, reserving rights to the states and to the
people, will simply be swept away in deference to Article
VI of the U.S. Constitution which provides that 'all
Treaties made ... shall be the supreme Law of the Land;
and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any
Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the
Contrary notwithstanding. "'
So, according to Congressman Bliley: "Hundreds of
judges will be left to interpret the Convention as they
please and will possess all power to supersede state laws"
in order to carry out the vague goals of the treaty, such as
"appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in
the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and
... the development of institutions, facilities and services
for the care of children."
Congressman Bliley concludes: "It finally becomes
clear: Ratification 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 U.N. Treaty on the Rights of the Child is a bad
deal for Americans on every count. It should never be
signed by our President or ratified by our Senate.