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More nations belatedly heed children's rights.

Nov. 20 marks the fifth anniversary of the United Nations' Covenant on the Rights of the Child. More than 160 nations have ratified the treaty in five years - the largest and quickest world response of all the 24 U.N. covenants on human rights.

The covenant means that solemn promises have been made to children that were never made before. The committee to monitor compliance with the covenant is working diligently. Its reports and rebukes have already prompted a wide variety of countries to improve their treatment of children.

International institutions in this century have urged special tenderness for children. The League of Nations issued a declaration on the rights of children in 1924. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 by most of humanity urged in article 25 that there be "special protection for childhood." In 1959, the United Nations agreed to a declaration on the rights of the child.

The covenant put forth five years ago is the result of a worldwide explosion of conscience and caring about the sufferings of children. Humanity somehow seems to have realized that almost 3 billion of the world's 5.6 billion people are children and that they have few rights recognized and guaranteed by world law.

It's as if everyone realized at once that 90 million children are born each year and millions of them, if they survive their first year, will confront deprivations of food, hosing, education and health care. The result has been a legal and moral revolution these past five years. The Holy See hag ratified the convention and is working for its implementation.

The United States helped develop the covenant, but it is embarrassing that America is one of only 19 nations that has not ratified the treaty. The White House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been deluged by allegations from right-wing fundamentalist groups that the covenant is anti-family, that it will give the children the right to sue their parents and that the treaty is somehow subversive.

The allegations are groundless. The covenant is neutral on abortion, states that the family is the "fundamental group of society" and strongly recommends all measures that strengthen family solidarity.

If the United States ratified the covenant it would be required, like all signatories, to report at regular intervals to the U.N. Committee on the Child on the state of America's compliance with the treaty. This country's treatment of children does not contain some of the brutal things done t;o children in dozens of nations around the world. But the U.S. position has its shameful side. This country has the highest child poverty level of any of the developed nations, four times that of Western Europe. By the year 2000, one in four children in the United States will be poor. The total will be 16 million - 3 million more than in 1987.

The number of children abused each year in the United States - now 3 million - has tripled since 1980. The number of children murdered in the United States has doubled over the past 10 years. In the United States, 110 babies die every day without reaching their first birthday. (Imagine if a jet crashed every day killing 110 passengers.) Only 18 percent of those eligible for Head Start are enrolled. One million American girls get pregnant each year - the highest rate in the industrialized world.

The world has always been in love with children. The Son of God came to Earth as a child and showed his love for children m several places in the New Testament.

Five years ago, humanity looked at the facts and statisties and pledged to help all children sent into the world by their creator. It is unthinkable that the United States will not rise to the new cry of humanity to guarantee the rights of children.

We must heed the Bengali poet Tagore who wrote that every child that is born comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged with mankind."

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington.
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Title Annotation:United Nations Covenant on the Rights of the Child
Author:Drinan, Robert F.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 4, 1994
Words:681
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