Recently, I asked my 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old students what they thought all children need in order to grow up healthy and strong. They responded readily: Lots and lot of water. Fruits and vegetables. Love. Schools. Homes. Parents. A life. Stuff to play with. A 5-year-old went a step further: “Legos.” A 6-year-old snapped back. “Legos? You don’t need them, but you would want them.”
The list my students generated around our meeting rug is remarkably similar to the list of rights named in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the world’s most widely ratified treaties. The convention enshrines children’s right to an education, to health care, to expression—and, yes, to play. It recognizes families as the fundamental unit of society, and says that families should be provided necessary protection and assistance to fulfill responsibilities to their children. United States delegates played an active role in drafting the convention in the late 1980s. Since then, all United Nations member states have ratified it, with one exception: the United States.
Some child-rights advocates in the United States said they expected to to see the country ratify the convention had Hillary Clinton won the presidential election. Now, with an administration that aims to boost military spending; reduce funding for affordable housing, education, and other programs that assist low-income families; and dramatically reshape related policies, they say that a commitment to children’s rights is critical to safeguarding children and tempering rising inequality. These advocates face opposition from those who argue the convention undermines national and parental sovereignty.