Monday, February 1, 2010

Children’s Rights

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child is a document that lists a few rules about the way children need to live. Without the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, our world would be a mess.  Before the Declaration (more commonly known as the DRC) most children were forced to work in factories and on farms, never finished or even attended school, or were forced to join armies.  They were commonly thought of as little grownups.  The DRC changed this by telling all governments around the world that they should ratify it and then make laws in support of the children.

This is why the DRC is so important. There’s also the Convention, which is a document written by a group of people at the United Nations in 1989. It has up to fifty-four articles about the protection and lives of children around the world. The Convention is even more powerful and important then the DRC. Because it’s laws are enforced strongly, with strict discipline to anyone who violates them. Without the Convention, the DRC would mean nothing to the world. And even if it did, all children would be mistreated and misunderstood in many ways.

Here is a timeline about how it all came to being. In 1905 delinquent jails called Borstals were founded in England.  (Wikipedia, “Timeline of young people's rights in the United Kingdom.”) Borstals were supposed to drive juvenile delinquents away from adult prisons. After Borstals were founded, it would be illegal to send delinquents to regular jail. It was discipline, but if a child spends their childhood cooped up in a tiny stall in dirty cruel surroundings, they’ll never be reclaimed and after they’re freed, they’ll go straight back to a life of crime. And that’s what Borstals were trying to prevent.

In 1918, the government of England decided to donate money to infant welfare centers. (Wikipedia, “Timeline of young people's rights in the United Kingdom.”)  The government encouraged local authorities to pitch in with free medical care of children under five. This was also very important without it a lot of children would not get medical care, because sometimes they’re orphans or their parents don’t love them.

In 1923, after World War I, a British woman named Eglantyne Jebb drafted the first DRC. She started with a fundraiser for mistreated children in Russia. It was a success, but eventually the fundraiser ran out of money. But without hesitation she turned towards another issue. That was of course the DRC, because it would change things so that the world wouldn’t need help to nurse children and treat them righteously. (Wikipedia, “Eglantyne Jebb.”)

On November 26, 1924 the DRC was endorsed by the League of Nations as the world child welfare charter.

In 1932 whipping children boiled down to almost nothing. A young male adult was only permitted about six whips with nothing but a simple birch rod by only a constable.  (Wikipedia “Declaration of the Rights of the Child.”) So by then whipping a child was illegal.

In 1946 the SCIU (Save the Children International Union) joined the Union of child welfare forming the UN so as to make it easier for them to continue their work for children in need. If that hadn’t happened the UN wouldn’t have founded the Convention and the Convention must be the most important thing in children’s rights (Wikipedia “Declaration of the Rights of the Child.”)

The DRC was adopted by the UNC on November 20, 1959.  November 20 is now known as National Children’s Day.  (Wikipedia “Declaration of the rights of the child.”)

In 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was held at the UN. The Convention lists over 50 rules in the name of children’s rights. The UN realized that the DRC wasn’t enforced enough and needed more rules. So they made the Convention as a stronger replacement to the DRC to tell the world how badly it was treating children and that they were going to need to fix it.

The USA, surprisingly, didn’t ratify the DRC. Nor did Somalia. Many people say that the reason that the USA didn’t ratify the DRC was because the USA thinks (and in some cases is) it’s too powerful to be bossed around. Some people also say that the USA didn’t need to ratify it because it provided so much protection for all people and culture had already began to change itself into child safe formations.  But the real truth about Somalia is that no one knows why it didn’t ratify the DRC and there are still children Somalis who suffer under the pressure of bad healthcare, unhealthy food, exploitation, and many other things.

To understand the concept of Children’s Rights, I interviewed two women who work in this area.  Margaret Wachenfield is Senior Policy Advisor for a part of the UN called Unicef.  She focuses on children and European Union governments.  Beth Morrow is a Lawyer and a Child Healthcare Advocate.  I’ve asked them some questions that I though others might ask and the these are their answers:

First I asked, “Why didn’t the US ratify the DRC?”

Morrow told me, “Well, my understanding of why the USA didn’t ratify is simply that the USA believes its laws are ideal, particularly its Constitution, and that it provides adequate protection to its citizens. In fact, the US goes around the world trying to help other countries adopt similar Constitutions. Also, the US doesn’t like to be told what to do by any other governments or political bodies, even the UN… Since the US is the strongest power in the world, it doesn’t have as much to gain by joining other countries through these types of measures… it just wants to follow its own rules.”

Wachenfield said, “…The US Constitution is a strong document and provides many human rights protections that are not provided by other countries’ laws. So, while the US children are protected from many horrible experiences by our own laws, Somali children are not so lucky. Therefore, to push the world to a higher standard, an international set of laws about human rights can do a lot.”

I asked, “what happens when the caretaker of an orphanage retires?”

Morrow responded: “In general, since being the caretaker of an orphanage is a job, that caretaker would be replaced by a new one who is hired through standard hiring practices. So, when the leader of an organization leaves their job, there is a Board of Directors who will do the hiring of a replacement.”

I then asked, “What happens if an adult or country violates one of these rules?”

Wachenfield told me: “If a country violates the CRC, other governments, their citizens, the children in their countries can criticize them. If the CRC has been adopted into the other country’s law, then someone might be able to bring a legal claim against the government. If a person violates the law, then it depends on how serious the violation is. For example, if someone hurts or kills a child, they may be sent to jail. If they don’t send their kids to school when they are supposed to, they probably won’t be sent to jail but will be required to send their kids to school or make sure they are learning and may have to pay a fine.”

I wanted to know: “Why aren’t children sent to jail?”

Morrow said: “Children are not sent to jail because it is felt that society is better served by trying to help a child who breaks the law learn from their mistake and get prepared to be a better adult. Children are not fully formed. Society is partly at fault for their flaws. And, thus, it is society’s job to off them a chance for redemption, education, and improvement. So, while they can be denied freedom (and sent to a juvenile justice facility), the job of that facility is to educate and improve their chances of becoming a productive adult.”  

Now that you know about the history of the DRC you probably want to know what the rules of the DRC were. Well here they are nice and clear.  In 1923 there were only 5 of them.

#1 A child must be given everything they need to develop.

#2 Needy children who are sick, orphan, delinquent, backward, or homeless must have someone who can love, feed, nurse, help, and reclaim them.

#3 A child in distress should be the first in line to get help.

#4 A child must live in a way that allows them livelihood and protection against exploitation.

#5 A child’s talents should be appreciated with consciousness that they should be devoted to the service of their friendly men.  (Wikipedia, Declaration of the Rights of the Child)

Now the Convention enlists over 50 laws about the rights of the child. But even though there are 54 laws, there are still many children all over the world who suffer from different things. Here are the 10 most important ones:

#1 A person cannot discriminate against a child no matter what family they were born into.

#2 All decisions concerning children must always be the best interest.

#3 All governments must protect children.

#4 Children have the right to parental guidance.

#5 Children have the right to life.

#6 All children have a right to and official identity.

#7 Children have a right to stay in contact with both parents if they are separated.

#8 Children whose families are scattered across countries or far spans of land should be allowed to travel between countries to visit each relative. (Children’s Rights and Responsibilities Leaflet, Unicef.) 

First the government started creating small laws in the name of children’s protection, then Eglantyne Jebb made the DRC, then governments and the UN started adding things on to make the DRC better, then the UN made the Convention. The world had been working very hard on improving children’s lives, yet governments continue to ignore these laws still, and the best we can do to prevent the suffering of children, is pitch in and help whenever we see there’s a chance.



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