Last December, a coalition seeking ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) held a briefing on Capitol Hill. Sen. Barbara Boxer addressed the faithful, who subscribe to the notion that “It Takes an (International) Village to Raise a Child.” In a discussion that followed, another panelist was asked, “Who will be the opposition?” Came the answer: “The narcissistic sovereignty crowd.” This is how globalists regard citizens who believe that America should be a self-governing nation and that parents are best positioned to act in their children’s interest.
Now the Obama administration is taking up the cause. On June 24, in a speech to middle schoolers in New York City, Susan Rice announced that the White House intends to seek ratification of the UN children’s rights treaty. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, appears to have a serious misunderstanding of her job title. The first duty of an American ambassador is to represent the United States to other nations—not to act as a propagandist for the “international community.” But Rice is undeterred. With a new Democratic supermajority in the Senate, the treaty could be headed for swift passage.
There are two core reasons that Americans should oppose ratification. First, the UNCRC would replace domestic law with international law, effectively overriding most American family statutes. Second, the substance of this treaty places government in a position to overrule parents’ decisions in key areas affecting their children.
Internationalists such as Rice claim that the treaty would not become binding on Americans until Congress adopted legislation to implement its substantive provisions. But this is grossly misleading—and they know it.
Advocates of ratification routinely claim that the UNCRC is a “non-self-executing” treaty. Self-executing treaties can be directly enforced by American courts; non-self-executing treaties require implementing legislation before a court can act. But one honest academic, a proponent of the treaty, gives an accurate view of the UNCRC’s true nature. Arlene Andrews, professor of Family Policy at the University of South Carolina, citing analysis by the American Bar Association, concluded, “The Convention is generally regarded as having two classes of rights for the purposes of self-execution, one class that is self-executing and one that is not self-executing.”
As a result, one Ohio judge, under the mistaken belief that the UNCRC had already been ratified, had no trouble unilaterally implementing the treaty. He ordered parents to stop smoking in the presence of their children, though no law of Congress or the Ohio legislature supported that decision. He may have been mistaken about the status of the treaty, but his action accurately foreshadowed the willingness of judges to use international agreements as an independent source of law.
In another instance, a federal judge in New York City applied the treaty directly in two separate cases despite knowing that it had not yet been ratified. He held that the treaty was already binding on the United States under the doctrine of customary international law.
The Supreme Court has also issued decisions based on the treaty. In Roper v. Simmons, it used the UNCRC as a non-binding but persuasive precedent to invalidate the death penalty for juveniles.
One of the world’s leading experts on children’s rights, Professor Geraldine Van Bueren of the University of London, gives a clear picture of how sovereignty is forfeited by ratification of the treaty:
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child moves the borders for the state of what is political and what can be subject to a legal challenge in courts, particularly in resource allocation and budgetary matters. The Convention and other international laws in effect narrows what were previously unfettered discretionary powers of governments. Before governments become party to human rights treaty they are obliged to ensure that there are the resources, either to implement the Convention on becoming party or shortly thereafter, in accordance with international law. Hence, there is no interference with national sovereignty, the nationally sovereign decisions on how resources on children’s rights to be expended have already been taken. In essence, the government has exercised its political powers, and it has to live with the legal consequences.
The evidence is clear. The idea that American judges will find it necessary to wait for implementing legislation before enforcing the UN children’s treaty is laughable.
According to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, American law is trumped by international law. Treaties are part of the “supreme law of the land” and “Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” The Constitution itself dictates that the UNCRC would supercede the vast majority of American laws on the subject of families and children.
Virtually all American law governing the parent-child relationship is currently controlled by state statutes, not federal law. But if the treaty is ratified, states will no longer have primary jurisdiction, and Congress will have the duty to implement the international legal standards contained in the convention. Moreover, judges would be able to enforce many of its provisions directly. Both federalism and American self-government would be severely damaged.
Under existing American law, parents are presumed to act in their children’s best interests. For government to intrude on families’ domain, it must demonstrate that a parent has harmed a child. Until there is evidence of abuse or neglect, parents—not the government—get to decide what is best for their children.
Under the core provision of the UNCRC, government need not prove that parents have harmed their children. In every decision involving children, the government acquires a duty and the power to see that the child’s best interest is fulfilled. That is, of course, best interest as defined by the subjective opinion of some government bureaucrat or judge.
Van Bueren explains how this legal standard is designed to work:
… best interests provides decision and policy makers with the authority to substitute their own decisions for either the child’s or the parents’, providing it is based on considerations of the best interests of the child. Thus, the Convention challenges the concept that family life is always in the best interests of children and that parents are always capable of deciding what is best for children.
Parents are supplanted not only by social workers, but also by the whims of their own children. The UNCRC guarantees that children have the legal authority to make their own decisions in areas that have previously been left to the discretion of their parents. Van Bueren elaborates on this abrogation:
State parties are obliged to ‘assure’ to children who are capable of forming views the rights to express those views ‘in all matters affecting the child’ and to give those views ‘due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.’ By incorporating a reference to ‘all matters affecting the child’ there is no longer a traditional area of exclusive parental or family decision making.
The cumulative impact of these two principles, Van Bueren adds, is that “states are under a duty to ensure that parental power is properly exercised and within limits. …The international protection of children’s civil rights now touches the core of family life.”
The treaty has a number of other troublesome implications:
• Parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children.
• A murderer aged 17 years and 11 months and 29 days at the time of his crime could no longer be sentenced to life in prison.
• Children would have the ability to choose their own religion. Parents would only have the authority to give their children advice about religion.
• It would become illegal for a nation to spend more on national defense than it does on children’s welfare.
• Children would acquire a legally enforceable right to leisure.
• Christian schools that refuse to teach “alternative worldviews” and teach that Christianity is the only true religion would violate article 29 of the treaty.
• Parents would not be allowed to remove their children from sex education.
• Children would have the right to reproductive health information and services, including abortions, without parental knowledge or consent.
It would be impossible, even for the radical crew currently in power, to implement any of these outlandish notions through the ordinary legislative process. So the coup is advancing by stealth. If American parents—the “narcissistic sovereignty crowd”—don’t rally for their right to raise their children, that most basic prerogative will be lost.
Michael P. Farris is chancellor of Patrick Henry College, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, and president of ParentalRights.org.
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