South Sudan appears poised to ratify the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. The South Sudan Parliament approved a ratification bill yesterday (not coincidentally, Universal Children’s Day, so named to commemorate the adoption of the Convention on November 20, 1989, as well as the approval of a precursor Declaration on November 20, 1959). The bill awaits signature by the president of the country – since 2011, the newest member of the United Nations.
Completion of that process will return matters to where they stood in 2005, when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy referred in Roper v. Simmons, a judgment outlawing the juvenile death penalty, to the
‘United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which every country in the world has ratified save for the United States and Somalia’
Then as now, Somalia lacks a strong central government, a fact that effectively leaves the United States standing alone.
Why the opposition? Factors compiled in “Why won’t American ratify the UN convention on children’s rights?”, an Economist article published last month, include claims that ratification “would usurp American sovereignty,” “undermine parents’ authority, particularly over religious and sex education,” and “provoke lawsuits demanding that the government pay” costs to improve children’s lot. Evidence of such concerns surfaced at p. 120 of a July/August essay in Foreign Affairs, which decried a 2002 Committee on the Rights of the Child recommendation (¶ 11) that Britain work to allocate funds and resources toward adequate implementation of obligations it undertook by joining the Convention. One also discerned such concerns earlier this month, in between the lines of questions that Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. (pp. 42-43) and Justice Antonin Scalia (pp. 31-32) posed during oral argument of Bond v. United States, a U.S. treaty-power case.
Undercutting those concerns is the fact that most Convention rights are already guaranteed by U.S. law (though not all, as the Economist points out) – not to mention the fact that nonratification weakens U.S. efforts to advocate globally for child rights. The fate of the newest effort to secure U.S. ratification of the disabilities treaty (prior post) may signal whether such facts have traction in contemporary U.S. politics.