Guess how many countries have signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child?

195. Now guess which two countries have not ratified the convention?

You might guess a low-income developing country, and you would be correct. Somalia has not ratified the convention. However, the “leader of the free world,” just like Somalia, has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That’s right, the United States, a country that prides itself on its citizens’ civil liberties and their expansive constitutional rights, has not ratified the world’s foremost global agreement on basic youth rights.

Is there anything terribly controversial in this document that’s prevented this “arsenal of democracy” from signing it? Let’s see:

Article 1

Definition of child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years”, unless the national law considers majority attained at an earlier age.

Article 2

The rights safeguarded in the Convention shall be ensured without any discrimination of any kind.

Article 3

In all actions concerning children the best interest of the child shall be of primary consideration.

Article 5

The state shall respect the responsibility, rights and duties of the parents or extended family.

Article 6

Every child has the inherent right to life

Article 7

The child has the right to a name, to acquire a nationality and to know and be cared for by its parents

Article 8

The child has the right to identity and nationality.

Article 9

The child has the right not to be separated from its parents, except in its best interests and by a judicial procedure.

Article 12

The child has the right to express views on all matters affecting him/her and the child’s views should be given due weight.

Article 13

The child has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kind.

Article 14

The right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion shall be respected.

Article 15

The child has the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

Article 16

No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his/her privacy, family, home or correspondence; the child should be protected from unlawful attacks on his/her honour and reputation.

Article 17

The State shall ensure the right of the child to access to information and material from national and international sources

Article 18

Parents have the prime responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child.

Article 19

The State shall take all legislative, administrative, social and educational measures for the protection of the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury, abuse, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation.

Article 24

The child has the right to the highest attainable standard of health care, with emphasis on primary health care, the development of preventive health care.

Article 26

The child has the right to benefit from social security.

Article 27

The child has the right to a standard of living which will allow physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

Articles 28 and 29

The child has the right to education. The State shall make primary education compulsory and available and free to all and encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, make them available to every child. School discipline shall be administered in a manner consistent with the child’s dignity. Education should be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and abilities, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, responsible life in a free society in the spirit of peace, friendship, understanding, tolerance and equality, the development of respect for the natural environment.

Article 30

The child has the right to enjoy his/her own culture.

Article 31

The child has the right to rest and leisure, to play and freely participate in cultural life and the arts.

Article 32

The child shall be protected from economic exploitation and from performing work that is hazardous to his/her life and development.

Article 33

The child shall be protected from illicit use of narcotic drugs.

Article 34

The child shall be protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, the use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices, in pornographic performances and materials.

Article 38

The State shall take all feasible measures to protect and care for children affected by armed conflict.

Article 40 and Article 37

Every child accused of having committed an offence or crime should be guaranteed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, to have legal assistance in presenting his/her case, not to be compelled to give testimony or to confess guilt, to have his/her privacy fully respected, to be dealt with in a manner appropriate to their age, circumstances and well-being. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by children below the age of 18.”

So apparently we can’t sign a document that guarantees all children have the right to life, the right of free expression, and the right to their own identity? That’s what George W. Bush thought, citing family rights. However, family rights are in many cases a violation of youth rights. Accepting family rights over youth rights means that we allow parents to force their kids to hold certain beliefs, do certain things, and act in certain ways, even if they wish not to.

By refusing to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United States continues to show how little respect it has for youth rights, so much so that it is willing to go against the status quo that virtually all countries in the world have agreed to through a legally-binding document. If America cares about youth rights at all, it’s time it reverse its policy and sign the convention.

I sincerely hope that is an action the Biden administration take immediately, although it’s unlikely America will change its mind about youth rights any time soon. After all, many of our practices go against the values of the convention. Alongside Iran, we’re the last place on earth to still sentence youth to the death penalty. In Tennessee, there’s a bill going through the legislature to abolish the minimum age for marriage, even though the state has long provided religious exemptions to allow minors to marry. Indeed, we seem to reject the very first article of the convention, that a child is an individual under 18 unless a lower age is imposed. Unlike most other Western democracies, 18-year-olds in the United States can neither legally drink, smoke, or check into most hotels. Many banks require parental approval for accounts for individuals under 21. Effectively, the legal rights of an “adult” 18-year-old are more limited than that of a 21-year-old, constituting an actual age of adulthood that is not in line with the principles of the convention.

Clearly, we should join the rest of the world in ratifying this convention. I understand that Americans like doing things their own way. I’m not saying we have to start measuring distance in kilometers or beverages in liters. 16-gallon sodas and cars going 65 MPH on a freeway are all well and good. All I’m saying is that we should be in line with the rest of the international community on such a key piece of youth rights protection that allows youth to express themselves as full human individuals.

And for those like George W. Bush who are concerned about family rights, let me remind you of Article 5: “The state shall respect the responsibility, rights and duties of the parents or extended family.” Of course, family rights are a thing. And they’re given their due in this convention. After all, this is a UN convention, not a radical youth rights manifesto (email me at if you would like to work on that!) Simply put, the rights of parents and other family members aren’t infringed by this document that protects key aspects of youth rights.

America: it is time you accept this convention. Otherwise, how can you claim to value democracy and civil liberties, when you so vehemently refuse to protect the civil liberties of your youth?

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