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Learning about children’s rights

Right now I’m a volunteer intern at Child Rights Information Network, or CRIN. CRIN works inside the Save the Children building, and basically hosts the organization, which is quite small compared to Save the Children, which is an internationally known child’s rights INGO. CRIN has just 3 members who are paid, and these are the three people who have been supervising me, mentoring me, advising me and guiding me through the last three weeks. They are fantastic people fueled by passion and never daunted by all the dozens of challenges they face each day.

CRIN is a global network that disseminates information about the Convention on the Rights of the Child and child rights amongst NGO’s, United Nations agencies, inter-governmental organization (IGOs), educational institutions, and other child rights experts. The Coordinating Unit is based in London, UK, where I am working now.

The network is supported and receives funding from Save the Children Sweden, Save the Children UK, UNICEF and other large organizations in Europe. CRIN has a membership of more than 1,700 organizations in over 140 countries. About 85 percent of the members are NGOs; and 65 percent are in the Africa, Asia and Latin America. In addition to working with member organizations, CRIN services the information needs of 2500 organizations and individuals who have joined the mailing lists.

The organization revolves around the website, which is updated daily with current events that affect children’s rights all over the world. It is a mecca of information on the CRC and the hundreds of treaties, council hearings and documents that each country has.

The challenge that I have been facing the past two/three weeks is one that I encountered on my first day working here. While researching the organization to help me better understand CRIN, I uncovered some rather troubling information.

CRIN operates around the CRC, the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The basic premise of the Convention is that children (all human beings below the age of 18) are born with fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings. Many governments have enacted legislation, created mechanisms and put into place a range of creative measures to ensure the protection and realization of the rights of those under the age of 18. Each government must also report back on children’s rights in their country.

Since its adoption in 1989 after more than 60 years of advocacy, the CRC has been ratified more quickly and by more governments than any other human rights instrument. There are two governments who haven’t ratified the CRC. Somalia….and the U.S. I was shocked to hear this. The CRC has been the subject of heated political opposition in the U.S., mostly coming from conservative religious organizations. These organizations are well funded, well organized, and very vocal. The primary argument made by these opponents is that the CRC threatens parental rights and the American family because it will give children and the state dangerous new rights against parents.

This argument is based on the idea that the CRC will be used by the state against individual parents to take such action as removing their children. The opponents’ premise is that the protections in the CRC will be interpreted as protections for children against parents, or will mandate prosecutions of parents for failing to respect their children’s rights.

From what I understand, the U.S. is basically claiming that whatever laws and treaties it already has is all that it needs. They don’t want the U.N. to intervene and tell them how to run their country. They think whatever they have is superior, and that infuriates me. The CRC is a great document ensuring that children are protected. The excuses used by the U.S., to date, are that the death penalty used to include minors, up until a few years ago. Also the CRC would protect and ban children being used as armed forces, and the U.S. used to enlist boys who were 16 and 17. Now their excuse is that the CRC would let children sue their parents, which is an exaggerated excuse in my opinion. Somalia doesn’t even have a government and that’s the only reason they haven’t ratified it. The U.S. is a self proclaimed leader of the free world, and they can’t even ratify a document that would make it more so.

-Kelly W.

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