On October 1, Somalia's government ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, leaving
the United States as the only U.N. member that has not ratified the treaty.Some observers argue that the United States’s failure to ratify the treaty undermines its leaders’ claims that their country is
the world leader on human rights. Although the purpose of the treaty is to
promote children’s human rights, ratification probably would not have any
significant impact on the rights of U.S. children.
The Convention, which was adopted on November
20, 1989, and entered into force on September 20, 1990, is
now the most widely ratified human rights convention. It obliges state parties to respect and ensure
the rights of children (defined as anyone under the age of 18), and provides for the realization of these rights by setting standards for
health, education, legal, civil, and social services for them.
The U.S. was instrumental in drafting
the convention. The Reagan and George H.
W. Bush administrations contributed several articles directly from the U.S.
Constitution, and the Clinton administration signed it in 1994. The First Amendment rights of freedom of
religion, speech, and peaceful assembly, along with the Fourth Amendment right
of people to be secure in their persons against unreasonable searches and
seizures, are all enshrined in the convention. Considering the strong U.S. influence, it seems
unusual that no U.S. President has submitted the treaty for consideration.
In the United States, ratification requires a
two-thirds supermajority vote in the Senate after submission by the President. A
treaty that requires no implementing legislation, a so-called self-executing treaty,
enters into force as domestic law immediately after ratification. Non-self-executing
treaties enter into force as domestic law only upon the passage of implementing
legislation. Additionally, a treaty
intended to be self-executing can be rendered otherwise within the United States if the Senate, in ratifying it, attaches a statement of limitations. Such statements are known as “reservations, understandings, and declarations”,
or “RUDs”. They are loosely analogous to presidential signing statements and similarly controversial,
though their force is less open to dispute within the United States.
Ratification by the
U.S. is unlikely to substantially impact the rights of children for two
reasons. First, U.S. law is already consistent
with most of the Convention's elements. Apart from
the Constitutional provisions, U.S. federal law provides similar protections
for children. For example, federal
child-labor statutes, which protect children’s safety when they work, are
consistent with Article 32 of the Convention. Also, the Child Abuse Prevention and
Treatment Act helps protect children
from child abuse as the Convention requires. Since children are already afforded these
rights, ratifying the Convention is unlikely to augment those rights further.
Second, where the Convention is
inconsistent with U.S. law, the Convention’s provisions are not likely to alter
the rights of children because the U.S. Senate has typically ratified human-rights
treaties with RUDs that render them non-self-executing. It has been argued that this practice is
meant to keep U.S. judges from adjudicating local human-rights conditions under
international standards. Article 37 of the Convention, which prohibits
sentencing children to death or life imprisonment without a possibility of
parole, was one area in which U.S. laws directly contravened the Convention. It was not until 2005 that the Supreme Court,
in Roper v. Simmons, ruled the execution of juveniles unconstitutional. Similarly, it was not until 2012 that the
Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama, ruled the sentencing of juvenile to life without the possibility of parole
unconstitutional. The U.S. could ratify the
convention with inconsistent provisions; however, as a non-self-executing
treaty, the U.S. can choose to implement only parts that are consistent with
domestic laws while inconsistent provisions remain ineffective absent domestic
 Convention on the Rights
of the Child, opened for signature
Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 [hereinafter Convention].
 Denis Fitzgerald, Somalia
Ratifies Child Rights Convention, U.S. Sole Holdout, UN Tribune (Oct. 1, 2015), http://untribune.com/somalia-ratifies-child-rights-convention-u-s-sole-holdout/ [http://perma.cc/GY3A-8Y6B].
See Joe Lauria, Why Won’t the
U.S. ratify the UN’s Children’s Rights Convention?, Huffington Post (Nov. 25, 2014), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-lauria/why-wont-the-us-ratify-th_b_6195594.html [http://perma.cc/36Y8-HLGK] (“U.S. leaders like to say the U.S. is the
world leader on human rights. That claim is undermined by its failure to join
the rest of the world in ratifying this convention.”).
Convention on the Rights of the Child, Audiovisual Library Int’l L., http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/crc/crc.html [http://perma.cc/J3GM-ZCY8] (last visited Oct. 18, 2015).
 Bradley McAllister, UN welcomes Somalia’s ratification of
Child’s Rights Convention, Jurist (Oct. 3, 2015), http://jurist.org/paperchase/2015/10/un-welcomes-somalias-ratification-of-child-rights--convention.php [http://perma.cc/F3EN-3697].
 Convention, supra note 1, art. 1.
Convention on the Rights of the Child, supra note 4.
 Lauria, supra note 3.
 U.S. Const. amends. I, IV.
 Convention, supra note 1, arts. 13-16.
 U.S. Const. art. II, § 2, cl. 2.
 Sen. Comm. on Foreign Relations, 106th Cong., S. Rpt. On Treaties and other International
Agreements 4 (Comm. Print 2001).
 Penny M. Venetis, Making Human Rights Treaty Law Actionable in
the United States: The Case for Universal Implementing Legislation, 63 Ala. L. Rev. 97, 101–02 (2011), available at http://www.law.ua.edu/pubs/lrarticles/Volume%2063/Issue%201/3-Venetis.pdf ().
Id. at 97–98; Duncan Hollis, Relating Presidential Signing Statements and
RUDs?, Opinio Juris (Sept. 13, 2006), http://opiniojuris.org/2006/09/13/relating-presidential-signing-statements-and-ruds [http://perma.cc/7HG6-FGDM].
 Hollis, supra note 15.
 29 C.F.R Part 570 (2015).
 Convention, supra note 1, art. 32.
See 42 U.S.C. § 5101 et seq. (2012); Pub. L. 93-247 (Child
Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974); Pub.
L. 111-320 (CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010).
 Convention, supra note 1, art. 19.
See M. Shah Alam, Enforcement
of International Human Rights by Domestic Courts in the United States, 10 Ann.
Surv. Int’l & Comp. L. 27, 31 (2004) (discussing the U.S. Senate’s
and presidents’ history of using RUDs to declare human-rights treaties as
 Venetis, supra note 14, at 109.
Id. art. 37.
 543 U.S. 551 (2005).
Id. at 578.
 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012).
Id. at 2469.
Posted by Ellenmai Korkoya on Tue. November 3, 2015 9:40 AM
Children's rights, International Human Rights, Somalia, United Nations, United States