National Post

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Friday, October 01, 1999

The pitter patter of the UN's little feet
Neil Seeman
National Post

Throughout Africa, people greet each other not by saying, "Hello," but by asking, "How are the children?" The answer, sadly, is grim. Each day 35,000 children die from preventable illnesses.

Ten years ago this fall, the United Nations unveiled its Convention on the Rights of the Child to combat this privation. A decade later, it is worth considering the convention's record.

Earlier this week, Jeffery Wilson, a family lawyer in Toronto, expressed his exasperation on these pages at the fact the convention does not go far enough. Mr. Wilson argued it contains toothless enforcement provisions and brooks dissension by its very signatories, including Canada, which he claims "ratified" the treaty and should be strictly bound by its contents.

Mr. Wilson then listed the ways in which Canada flouts the convention: The provinces do not summon the opinions of illegal refugee parents when setting education policy; criminal law sanctions corporal punishment by parents and teachers; and the RCMP detains children who emigrate illegally into Canada.

But contrary to what Mr. Wilson says, Canada never "ratified" the convention. Ottawa signed it, but the treaty requires the approval of all the provinces since it touches on areas of provincial jurisdiction, notably health and education. And Alberta never approved the convention, despite immense pressure to do so.

This cavalier indifference toward the democratic procedures of sovereign nations is typical of the convention's cheerleaders. A case in point is the scorn that Mr. Wilson reserves for corporal punishment, which in Canada was enacted democratically and continues to be supported by the vast majority of Canadians. If Mr. Wilson disagrees with this law, he need not spank his own children. But why is imposing his vision on all parents a liberal or a democratic option?

So far, Canada has been spared the worst of the convention's wrath. In 1997, the newly established "Committee on the Rights of the Child" -- essentially a roving Gestapo charged with enforcing the convention's ideology around the world -- forced Australia to "take all appropriate measures, including that of a legislative nature, to prohibit corporal punishment in private schools and at home." England then came under fire for exempting children from public school programs -- such as sex education -- at the behest of their parents.

Later this year Canada is scheduled for review by the same UN committee -- which, incidentally, is comprised of 10 unelected bureaucrats, including some from countries with autocratic and Communist dictatorships.

And when this happens Ottawa will happily submit to the committee's demands. Canada, after all, never misses a chance to boost the new globalism. According to Stephen Lewis, Canada's former UN ambassador, Canada often "drives the agenda [at the UN]."

To celebrate the treaty's 10th anniversary, Ottawa even plans to give every child under 18 the chance to select what they consider their most cherished UN "right." "At Election Central in Ottawa, experts and spokespersons will provide ongoing analysis," reads the promotional pamphlet.

And earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada revealed its new internationalist credentials. It ruled that an immigration officer's decision to deport Mavis Baker, a Jamaican immigrant who had given birth to four of her eight children in Canada, was "biased" because the officer failed to pay due attention to the convention's obligation to give the "best interests of the child" prime consideration. In so doing, the court defined liberty in such a way as to ignore Canada's sovereign right to control her borders and to choose who enters and who remains.

Increasingly, however, sovereignty is an endangered intellectual species. Consider that the convention affords children "autonomous rights," such as freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Hence 13-year-olds have the right to refuse to go to church, sue their parents, join a gang, download pornography from the Internet, or have an abortion over the objections of their parents. The convention thus opens the door to bureaucratic interference in family matters and subordinates parents' rights to those of the state.

So where does this leave the world's children? In most Third world countries, critical commodities such as antibiotics remain in short supply. Meanwhile, condoms in all the colours of the rainbow are widely available. And while the convention denounces child labour, many impoverished families desperately need the income of children, which in turn leads to better schools and reduced child poverty. All of which raises the question, Just whose interests did the UN have in mind when it drafted this convention?

Copyright Southam Inc.