On Nov. 20, 1989 — 26 years ago — the United Nation General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. While we could be proud that it was heavily influenced by the U.S., which drafted more provisions than any other country, it took six years to get it signed by our president and to this day it has never been ratified by Congress. We should be embarrassed that we are the only country in the United Nations not to ratify it.
And our country has plummeted in the worldwide rankings since the CRC was created.
As a country, we are completely failing in our fragmented approach to raising our children. Anyone with a preschool child knows it. Parents must decide if they can afford to stay home after childbirth utilizing the Family and Medical Leave Act, because it is an unpaid job-protected leave of absence. In any case, families are presented with a child care industry that is woefully short of programs that offer infant care, and within those choices only a small fraction are accredited, meeting high quality standards. Quality child care is expensive, especially for young working families. Accredited infant care in Dane County is about $1,250 per month. Families are encouraged to piece together their child care arrangements to keep costs down, creating a lot of stress on the family and the early life of the infant.The child care workforce experiences a high turnover rate due to low wages. Children may experience many caregivers during their child care journey.
Many studies have shown that the chaos within this splintered system may have a long-term effect on a child. Experiencing inconsistent caregiving practices increases the chances of developing challenging behaviors, such as being impulsive and aggressive, that effect learning.
We need a comprehensive early childhood care system that will not only help the current workforce do its job well but will also reduce societal costs for special education, crime prevention and incarceration.
A new documentary series produced by California Newsreel with Vital Pictures in collaboration with many communities including the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association addresses how young children and their families are faring in America's fractured system. "The Raising of America" will air on PBS in 2016. You can watch it from now until Nov. 30 here.
Why are we in the U.S. so resistant to ratifying the CRC, thus helping our children? Amnesty International describes the CRC as calling for children’s rights to adequate food, education, and health care; freedom from violence, abuse and exploitation; equal treatment regardless of gender, race or cultural background; the right to express themselves and have safe access to play, culture and art. Most families here in the U.S. want their children to have these rights.
Ratifying the CRC could also serve as a unifier as we grapple with concerns about police brutality and racial bias over incidents such as the recent violence toward the teenage child in South Carolina who was brutally knocked backward at school.
On the campaign trail in 2008 President Obama made a commitment to review the CRC, noting that the U.S. was the only country other than Somalia not to ratify it. Since then, even the youngest country in the world, South Sudan, has already signed on and ratified it. In 2009 Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., urged the U.S. to ratify it.
In response, some parental rights groups advocated against the CRC, stating it would affect parental authority including parents' rights to spank their child. They also expressed concerns that it provides a child the right to playtime (which it does). Additionally, they feared the United Nations would replace U.S. sovereignty and dictate how we raise our children.
That's just not so. The reality is that the U.N. serves as a world platform for countries to set goals for agreed-upon human rights. The CRC emphasizes the importance of parents raising their children and children respecting their parents. The only real authority the CRC has is that it provides a forum for each country to review what they are doing for their children and share with the world how they intend to improve upon it. It’s an accountability tool.
While urging Congress to ratify the Convention on the Rights of a Child isn’t going to instantly change everything it could encourage us to do the right thing, one baby step at a time, and show the world we do care about our children.
Oma Vic McMurray is a child care provider on Madison's east side.
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