Thursday, March 01, 2018

America's Children Need UN Intervention

September 6, 2019 Update: Since I wrote this piece in March of 2018, the situation for America's children has become even MORE desperate. As mass shootings continue to be met mostly with "thoughts and prayers" by people empowered to actually do something about the crisis, almost all schools now have some kind of active shooter training. Unfortunately, as evidenced in this New Times Report (possibly hidden behind a paywall), such drills may succeed mostly in frightening children and thus creating just one more layer of trauma for them. Soon there will be another census taken, and by late 2020 we should have a better idea of just how bad are other children's health indicators in this country (poverty, access to health care, disease rates, etc.). 
TONY'S MEDIA RANTS from Old Man River Storytellers Group on Vimeo.

In the original column I argued that it's time for youth activists and their adult allies  to petition to bring the US government before the United Nations so that it can answer internationally for its shameful inattention to children's health and safety. I stand by that claim. The year 2019 is the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Disgracefully, the United States remains as the only nation in the world to refuse to sign on to the Convention. Here's what the UN says about the meaning of the 30th anniversary: 

The 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a unique opportunity to put children’s rights, the Convention (along with its Optional Protocols) and its relevance for global peaceful development and co-existence high on the international agenda, to assess the status of child rights and take measures to strengthen awareness, understanding and the actual realisation of children’s rights worldwide.

It is our chance to take stock of progress until now and set in motion the further strengthening of the child rights movement in our changing global context where human rights are increasingly under threat!

What better way for activists in the United States to mark the 30th anniversary than to shame the United States government into signing the document? And maybe even shaming them into ACTING to protect children? 

Here's the original column: 

Every time I see the young survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre on television I am almost moved to tears. In part it's because, like millions of Americans, I am inspired by how they role model the courage and poise needed to speak truth to power. But more than that is the fact that the "adult leaders" in this country have actually put these young people in the position of fighting for their lives. What kind of a society places its youth in that position? Not a decent one. 

Can the so-called majority leaders of the United States Congress (and most State legislatures) say with a straight face that they are committed to the protection of children while eagerly accepting gun lobby cash and offering "thoughts and prayers" to the families of massacre victims and survivors? No they cannot

Can the mainstream media in the United States--a media that cannot question politicians as rigorously as teenagers can--hold the cowards in Congress and state legislatures accountable for failing to protect the nation's most vulnerable? No it cannot.  
So because America's children cannot rely on the key domestic institutions responsible for protecting them to do their jobs conscientiously, perhaps it is time to internationalize the struggle. Truthfully it is long past time. Today's youth activists in Parkland and across the nation, together with their adult allies, should take their case to the United Nations. Before rejecting this idea out of hand, hear me out. 

American activist youth of today, including those in Parkland, those associated with #BlackLivesMatter, and many others, strike me as the USA's versions of the wonderful Malala Yousafsai. Malala is the young Pakistani education-for-females activist who in 2012 survived an assassination attempt at the hands of the Taliban. In 2014 at the age of 17, she became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient in history. The United Nations recognized July 12, 2013 (Malala's 16th birthday) as "Malala Day." On that day she said "Malala day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights." When I listen to the Parkland youth, I think of another quote from Malala on that day: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

Like Malala, America's new young activists are not afraid to take on the powerful.
The only unfortunate part of the UN's celebration of Malala was that it led many to believe that extreme oppression of youth--including the silencing of their voices and exposing them to physical harm--was primarily a third world problem. Try telling the poisoned youth of Flint and their families that "things are worse in the third world." Try telling that to the survivors of mass shootings and the victims' families. They'll look at you like you're a fool or something worse. 

At least third world countries sign on to international agreements that put them on record as committing to do better for their children. In stark contrast, the United States is currently the only nation in the world that has not ratified the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UN calls the "most widely ratified human rights treaty in history." In 2008 candidate Barack Obama said it was shameful that the US had not ratified the Convention, but then his administration did nothing meaningful to make ratification happen. Journalist Amy Lieberman reported recently on how the Trump Administration appears to be maneuvering internationally to weaken even further the USA's laggard commitment to eradicating violence against women and children. 

The United States is arguably in violation of much of the 1990 Convention, perhaps most obviously Article 6: 

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life. 

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

The United States is the only country in the world that refuses to ratify the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Shame. Source: Wikipedia
We adult Americans give lip service to the "inherent right to life" of every child, yet it's clear that that right is greater or lesser based on the child's zip code. Some so-called adults only seem to care about unborn children. And the government's flat-out refusal to do anything serious about solving the problem of gun violence in schools makes it impossible for us to claim that we are ensuring to the "maximum extent possible" the survival and development of the child. In the USA in just the first two months of 2018, according to the Gun Violence Archive, gun violence has killed or injured 91 children between the ages of 0-11, and 447 teens between the ages of 12-17. 

The Parkland youth have already had and will continue to have a powerful impact on local, state, and even the national government. They've pressured an NRA toady like President Trump to make surprisingly rational statements on gun safety. They've even managed to push private businesses like Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart to put a tiny measure of sanity in their policies on gun sales. 

But even if the movement were miraculously able to get the federal and/or state governments to support gun control measures with wide public support like universal background checks, raising the age for certain types of firearm purchases, and red flag policies that allow for confiscating guns from individuals that pose a clear threat, those would still represent not much more than a band aid in a society where millions of assault weapons would continue to exist without meaningful licensing or registration. Until we find a way to confront the problem of millions of unaccounted for guns in society, America's schoolchildren will never truly be safe from harm. 

Since the United States government has shown time and again that it will place the needs of the gun manufacturers and their lobby above the needs of that nation's most vulnerable citizens, it is time to request UN intervention. If the United States would ratify the 1990 Convention this would be an easier struggle because the government then would have to file reports indicating what kind of challenges to child health and welfare exist in the nation and how we might rectify them.

However, according to Human Rights Watch there is an optional "communications procedure" adopted by the UN in 2011 that allows the Committee on the Rights of the Child to hear complaints from individuals from member countries who feel the rights of children have been violated and that "domestic remedies have been exhausted." Human Rights Watch says that, "The committee may then investigate the complaints and make recommendations to the country responsible for the violation." The US has not ratified the Convention but it is a signatory to it; that by itself should allow for impacted individuals in our country to file complaints

Some might argue that it is too early to go to the UN. "Give us time to exhaust all domestic remedies," they will say. Seriously? We have now had so many school shootings that they have become normalized. We can pass tax breaks for millionaires without Congressional hearings because of the "urgent needs of our economy," yet protecting our children somehow does not merit the same urgency. The "thoughts and prayers" crowd not only prevent any meaningful legislation from passing, but they will not even allow the Centers For Disease Control to study the problem. Our domestic remedies were exhausted a long time ago, leaving behind a long trail of blood and tears. Our shameful inaction needs to be broadcast on the world stage. 

It's time to haul the United States government into the United Nations to have to answer for its refusal to protect children. Let the "thoughts and prayers" crowd have to defend their moral and political cowardice before an international body. Let's invite recommendations from the UN. Perhaps then we might move closer to replacing thoughts and prayers with real actions to protect children.