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New hope for American children

SIR FRANK PETERS :: At last the United States of America is coming to its senses and making preparations to become civilized.

Last Friday (October 9), House Democrats Karen Bass (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) and the spiritual presence of Bruce Lesley, introduced a House resolution calling for the passage of a Children’s Bill of Rights.

The Children’s Bill of Rights would include 22 points meant to ensure the “physical well-being, social and emotional well-being, and educational and life skills” of all children.

Last week, much to the humiliation and embarrassment of the USA, Somalia signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which left the US the only nation that hadn’t.

The resolution reads in part: “Resolved, it is the sense of the House of Representatives that every child is entitled to: physical well-being, social and emotional well-being, and educational and life skills.” The specific rights include protection from neglect and abuse, the right to safe schools and communities, the right to medical care, and the right to have the government care for a child’s basic needs if no parent or care-giver is caring for them. 

“Children’s rights are human rights,” said Rep. Karen Bass. “The United States needs to state unequivocally that all children have basic rights. While 197 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Child, the United States has stayed on the sidelines. This is embarrassing, and it is beyond time for the United States to catch up with the world and support all our children.”

“This resolution will not wipe away poverty, or take guns off of our streets, or make our schools miraculously better, but it is a step,” Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez said.  “It puts the Congress on notice that we are watching how our actions impact the youngest and most important among us.”

Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus Campaign for Children, said: “The United States has no framework governing the rights of our children to ensure their basic needs are being met. That is shameful. The rights of the child should be our first thought every time we make a decision about their well-being. The Children’s Bill of Rights for the first time establishes standards to make sure children get the housing, nutrition, healthcare, and education they need.”

Despite its many financial drawbacks and restraints, Bangladesh has made more advances in the implementation of children’s rights in the last few years than the USA. Much to its shame, corporal punishment is still legal in 22 USA states.

When eminent Bangladesh High Court justices Md. Imman Ali and Sheikh Hassan Arif outlawed the barbaric practice of corporal punishment in schools here in 2011, they declared it: “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child’s fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom”.

No doubt this description applies to all children worldwide, including the USA, and not just Bangladesh.

In 1989, governments worldwide promised all children the same rights by adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

While Americans have every justification to feel humiliated, embarrassed and ashamed by its government not signing the agreement, the passage of the Children’s Bill of Rights is a major step in the right direction.

(The writer, Sir Frank Peters, is a human rights advocate, an award-winning writer, a former newspaper publisher and editor and a loyal foreign friend of Bangladesh.)

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