(The UN’s Convention . . . )
I am an effective practitioner. Many, if not most, of the kids and families I work with gain a measure of peace and healing from my relationship with them. But for a society to function well takes more than effective individuals. Functioning social systems are required as well. The perspective I have gained from my position on the “front line” has helped me to realize that, in regard to children, our society is missing something vital systemically. Consequently, the impact I want to have on the larger picture of what is possible for our world is diminished.
This awareness drew me to part-time graduate school at the University of Victoria four years ago. While there, I took a course on a United Nations human rights document for the world’s children, the CRC. I am now wrapping up my Master’s thesis looking at the current effects and the unrealized potential of national and international implementation of this unprecedented human rights initiative.
I must take a brief aside and make plain one of my assumptions here as a Canadian. This may not be an assumption you share, but I hold this to be the truth: overall, the United Nations does good work, especially UNICEF. If the global community had not already created the UN at this point in history, far-thinking humans would have to invent it in order to dialogue about our collective destiny on this chaotic and disordered little world. Although the bureaucratic and political challenges of the UN sometimes blunt its effectiveness, I believe that the world is a better place for its presence, and perhaps more importantly, its potential. Here in Canada, this assumption of the UN’s inherent goodness is virtually universal.
History of the CRC The 54 Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, is the latest tool created by the world community to advance the notion of human rights, this time for the world’s most vulnerable citizens. Its development began in 1924 within the League of Nations. The CRC was worked on extensively from 1979 (the “Year of the Child”) until its presentation to the UN a decade later, in 1989. Introduced formally at the World Summit for Children in New York in 1990 (the largest gathering of world leaders to that point), the impact of this new document parallels that of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted just after the end of World War II. The CRC represents the zenith of humanity’s efforts to guarantee children the right to healthy survival—to development, education and healthcare, and freedom from physical, mental and sexual abuse or exploitation. Furthermore, the CRC guarantees children the right to participate meaningfully in their own destiny. What a noble concept when read and understood in its entirety. Its Articles support and strengthen the family as the primary environment where these freedoms are given birth and fostered.
In 1948, no one envisioned the impact of these types of UN treaties on the global community of nations. Looking back on the past half century, we see their influence has been profound. At present, all nations have an awareness of human rights, and what constitutes a violation of such rights. Trading nations with more civil social systems can and do apply effective pressure on their neighbors to respect these individual rights and freedoms.
I believe the fact that Nelson Mandela was released rather than murdered, and that South Africa is now a functioning multi-racial and multi-cultural democratic society is the result of an evolving awareness of human rights issues over the past half century. The same could be argued for the breakdown of communism and the Berlin Wall, or the transformation from the brutal personality cult dictatorship of Marcos to the beginnings of democratic institutions in the Phillipines. Numerous other examples exist around the world. These mostly peaceful transitions had their roots in a growing global awareness about the availability of expanding freedoms, found most notably in the US. The world has made progress in the last century and the area of human rights is one of our most important achievements. Now, at least, there are international standards, and pressure can be applied to nations that do not live up to these principles.
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