Nov. 20 is Universal Children’s Day. The date marks the day the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.
Over the past 24 years every country that is a member of the United Nations has accepted or ratified these essential human rights for children — every country except Somalia and the United States.
How can it be that the U.S. has refused for more than two decades to join with the UN to protect the children of the world? Certain tenets of the convention grant children participatory rights in the judicial process, rights still deemed to conflict with our Constitution. The Constitution was written at a time when children were property, not people.
Our Constitution has been amended to ensure the rights of women and minorities, but there has never been an amendment to protect children as citizens. Children must wait until they reach 18 years of age, are emancipated or commit a criminal act to be afforded constitutional protection in our country. Our Constitution safeguards the rights of parents to control their children, not the essential human rights of children as persons.
This is true of the Indiana constitution as well. Corporal punishment, now considered cruel, unusual and an assault on the human dignity of an adult, is still acceptable when disciplining children. Our Indiana constitution says crime victims have the right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect throughout the criminal justice process (Section 13b of the Indiana constitution). But our Indiana Supreme Court has systematically determined that child victims do not have these constitutional rights.
Indiana courts have issued a series of decisions making it nearly impossible for child victims of sexual assault to be heard in criminal judicial proceedings against their perpetrators. See Tyler v. State, 903 N.E.2d 463 (Ind. 2009); Cox v. State, 937 N.E.2d 874 (Ind. App. 2010, trans. denied 950 N.E.2d 1198); and VanPatten v. State, __ N.E.2d __, WL 1844141, (Ind. 2013).
The Indiana Supreme Court has further construed the rules of evidence and Indiana statutes in a manner that is unfair to children and impedes the truth from being ascertained (contrary to Rule 102), assumes that children are not competent witnesses (contrary to Rule 601) and prohibits trial judges from balancing the probative value of children’s statements with any unfair prejudice, instead excluding all potentially cumulative evidence rather than just that which is unfair or needless (contrary to Rule 403).
As an attorney, author, child advocate and the founder of Socratic Parenting LLC, I frequently present professionally on issues including parenting, bullying and human trafficking. I am now convinced that raising awareness and ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children is a crucial first step in addressing issues such as child abuse, bullying and human trafficking at the local, national and global levels.
How long will the people of Indiana and of the United States tolerate this systematic violation of our children’s civil rights? It’s time for each of us to take a stand. Go to childrightscampaign.org/ to learn more and sign a petition asking the president to submit the UNCRC to the Senate for ratification. All of the national resources directed at issues such as bullying and human trafficking are destined to fail until we as a nation stop viewing children as property and start treating them as people.