ARTICLE: Abandoning Children to Their Autonomy: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 1996 President and Fellows of Harvard College
Harvard International Law Journal

ARTICLE: Abandoning Children to Their Autonomy: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Spring, 1996

37 Harv. Int'l L.J. 449


Bruce C. Hafen * and Jonathan O. Hafen **


In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, without a vote, a new Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). 1 Within a year, 130 nations had accepted the CRC, 2 and the number now reaches 176. 3

As approvals of international human rights treaties go, this is such blinding speed that the CRC's widespread acceptance seems surprisingly uncritical -- especially for a convention that includes an unprecedented approach to the legal and personal autonomy of children. Although it restates many time-honored United Nations themes about children, the new CRC would also arguably alter United States laws regarding age limits, parental rights, and children's rights to expression, media access, privacy, and religion. 4

Since American children's rights advocates took the lead in developing the CRC's unique provisions for child autonomy, it is curious that the United States is not yet among the ratifying nations. 5 The sluggishness of the United States might be explained by a traditional American reluctance to adopt international human rights treaties. Moreover, U.S. family law is typically reserved to the states, which complicates the process of federal Senate ratification. A more speculative possibility arises from the fact that the United States legal mainstream has never embraced the notion of legal autonomy for children. Some CRC proponents have nonetheless incorrectly implied that their positions reflect the current state of United States law -- which is unfortunate for those in the international community who have relied on their claims. This raises the question whether advocates ...
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