Skip to main content

By Nahal Zamani, Advocacy Associate, ACLU Human Rights Program

Friday, November 20, marks the  20th anniversary of the Convention on the  Rights of the Child, the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights.  The convention has been ratified by nearly every country in the world, except  for the United States.  The convention would fill current gaps in U.S.  laws, and provide all children in America with the same robust  protections that children in 193 countries are already entitled to.

Kevin is serving the rest of his life in prison without the opportunity for release for a crime he committed as a child. He’s not alone. Each year in the U.S., children as young as 13 are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison without any opportunity or hope for release. Approximately 2,570 children are sentenced to juvenile life without parole in the U.S. We are the only country in the world where children are serving such cruel sentences — and we stand alone with Somalia in failing to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

When we look to the CRC, a pragmatic guide for creating a better and more stable world, we see that sentencing children to life without parole clearly denies young people the opportunities they are due.

Nurturing communities and access to a full range of opportunities has a significant impact on children. It’s common sense. Children represent our future, and we all have a stake in their development by creating and sustaining programs that support them and providing them access to a full range of opportunities throughout their childhood.  We can do much better, and we must. We must ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society — our children — receive fair sentences for the crimes they commit and that they are given an opportunity for rehabilitation.

The sentence of life without parole violates not only the CRC’s  prohibition of life sentences for juveniles, but also violates the consideration of the needs of children — concepts outlined explicitly within the treaty.

When we look at access to education, we’re seeing another disturbing trend taking place here in the U.S. We are falling behind when it comes to the treatment of our children in schools.

In 2008, the ACLU's Human Rights Program and Human Rights Watch released a comprehensive analysis that found that children in Texas and Mississippi ranging in age from 3 to 19 years old were routinely physically punished for minor infractions such as chewing gum, talking back to a teacher, or violating the dress code, as well as for more serious transgressions like fighting.

Corporal punishment, which is actually legal in 20 states, typically takes the form of "paddling," during which an administrator or teacher hits a child repeatedly on the buttocks with a long wooden board. As a result of paddling, many children are left injured, degraded, and disengaged from school.

We found that some students are targeted more than others. Students with disabilities and students of color are punished at disproportionately high rates; this hinders a fundamental right to education and freedom from discrimination.

For example, African-American girls in Mississippi are 2.2 times as likely as Caucasian girls to be paddled, a number that exceeds rates in other states. There is no evidence that these students commit disciplinary infractions at disproportionate rates.

When we examined the corporal punishment of students with disabilities – ranging from paddling, to throwing children into walls — we found that the punishment could actually worsen these students' medical conditions and undermine their fundamental right to an education.

Many parents noted that their children with autism became more fearful or angry after receiving corporal punishment, especially around their schools. Consider the story of Anna M.’s son, a 7-year-old with autism in Florida. He changed after he was restrained and received corporal punishment. His mother told us:

He’s an avoider by nature, before he was never aggressive. Now, he struggles with anger; right after the incidents he’d have anger explosions... He would never leave my side. He had major nightmares, screaming. He wouldn’t go to Walmart, anywhere. He’d say ‘we’re going to run into him [the person who administered physical punishment].’

Students with disabilities— like all students —need safe, secure school environments in which they can effectively learn. No child should be hit, especially the most vulnerable. Corporal punishment cannot function as part of that environment: it causes pain, injury, and degradation of the student’s medical condition. And it is ineffective.

There are positive solutions that create effective school cultures. Positive behavioral interventions and supports are proven to allow educators to respond to each child, teaching them why what they did was wrong and how they can correct their behavior. Creating caring school climates and positive approaches to discipline guarantees the human right to education for all young people in the United States.

Looking to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we see clearly the right thing to do. Every child has the right to be free from any form of physical or mental abuse, and every country should "take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation." The child rights treaty recognizes the "right of the disabled child to special care" which should "ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education ... in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development. The treaty also expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It just makes sense.

On this day, the 20th anniversary of the child rights treaty, the ACLU is examining how we’re faring in light of a global strategy for creating a better and more stable world. Providing children access to a full range of opportunities throughout their childhood is effective and essential. We just can't afford to let another 20 years pass.

The ACLU Human Rights Program (HRP) works to ensure that the U.S. government complies with universal human rights principles in addition to the U.S. Constitution. HRP has been part of a reemerging movement of U.S.-based organizations that uses the international human rights framework in domestic rights advocacy.

Originally posted to ACLU on Fri Nov 20, 2009 at 12:15 PM PST.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    Because freedom can't protect itself.

    by ACLU on Fri Nov 20, 2009 at 12:15:50 PM PST

  •  While I did know that the US (3+ / 0-)

    consistently violates the rights of children by imprisoning them, I did not know that the U.S. has not ratified the convention.  I so abhor how we imprison children, separate children from imprisoned mothers, and detain child refugees and immigrants. So thank you for this.  The trends in education are very disturbing, especially the treatment of children with special needs.

    What is also unfortunate is how little DKos traffic your diary is getting--a testament to how we as a nation continually turn a blind eye to our own human rights abuses.

    Co-op + Public Option = Co-option. Call your Represenative, Senator, and the White House to Demand Public Option

    by SuburbanGrrrl on Fri Nov 20, 2009 at 02:13:17 PM PST

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site