Jewish World Review

Dec. 8, 1999 / 29 Kislev, 5760

If the U. N. gets its way, 'nanny state' will no longer be hyperbole

By Dr. Wade F. Horn
Jewish World Review

Geneva, Switzerland --- I just attended a four day conference with the ambitious title, World Congress of Families. Chiefly sponsored by the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, the omnipresent theme of the meeting was that the natural family, consisting of a mother and a father bound in marriage and raising children, forms the basis of civilization. The proper role of government is to protect and encourage strong and autonomous families.

Who, you might ask, could be against such a proposition? Unfortunately, many more than you might think. As attendees at this conference learned, many of them operate within an organization with a headquarters in the very city hosting this unashamedly pro family meeting: the United Nations.

The UN was founded after World War II as a means for resolving international disputes in order to avoid armed conflicts -- a worthy goal, indeed. Over the years, however, it has drifted into a broader social agenda aimed at re defining many traditional structures and beliefs.

A case in point is the "United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child." Initially drafted in the late 1980s, the Convention has since been ratified by every member of the UN - except, that is, for Somalia and the United States. Somalia's probably just being ornery. But why not the United States?

Why not, indeed. On the surface the Convention includes many high sounding and laudatory pronouncements, such as its prohibitions on child slavery and child prostitution. However, it also contains provisions that many social conservatives in the U.S. believe could disrupt the natural family by driving a wedge between parents and their children.

Take, for example, Article 13. It reads: "The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice." Incredibly, there is no limitation whatsoever on this right. So, if a 12 year old child wants to view pornography on the Internet, under this Article, his parents would be powerless to stop him.

Similarly, Article 15 asserts that children have a right to freedom of association. While some degree of freedom of association under the watchful eye of caring parents is certainly to be encouraged, what if a 13 year old wants to "freely associate" with known drug deals or pimps? Given the absence of any articulation of the right of parents to enforce reasonable limitations on this right, the child's parents would be unable to prevent her from doing so.

Further, Article 16 asserts that a child has the right to be protected against "arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy." Since "arbitrary" is left undefined, this article could be used to void parental notification laws in cases of minors seeking abortion, or prevent parents from searching their child's room if they suspected their child was involved in drug or alcohol use.

In essence, what the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does is render the opinions of adults to be, well, mere opinions, no more or less important than the opinions of children. Government is elevated to the status of referee, arbitrating the competing opinions of parents and children.

What makes this especially troubling is that the Convention is defined as a treaty. Under the Constitution, when U.S. law is in conflict with a treaty, the treaty takes precedence. Consequently, if the U.S. ratifies this "treaty," it could be used to challenge all sorts of U.S. laws.

This danger is not at all theoretical. As early as 1995, an evaluation report from the United Nations committee overseeing the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, chastised the government of Great Britain, a signatory to the Convention, for allowing parents to withdraw their children from parts of a sex education program without the child's consent.

Unfortunately, attempts to erode the autonomy and authority of parents do not stop at the UN's doorstep. Incredibly, under Maryland state law, if a child has his or her own library card, library staff are prohibited from divulging to parents information about their child's borrowing record, even though the parents are financially responsible for any lost books or overdue fines.

The message the state of Maryland is sending to parents is clear: We the state, and not you the parent, are in the best position to determine what books your child can read. We will monitor what books your child takes out of the library; indeed, we will protect your child from any antiquated notions you might have as a parent about what books your child can read.

Of course, sometimes government intervention into family affairs is not only appropriate, but also necessary. When, for example, a parent physically or sexually abuses his children, the state must intervene.

But just because some parents, sometimes, do bad things, does not mean that government should act as if every parent is likely to do so. Rather, government should always assume that because parents are generally in the best position to make decisions about the welfare of their children, they must retain maximum decision making authority when it comes to raising their children.

The real answer to improving the well being of children is not to establish a new set of "children's rights," but rather to support the natural and fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. The critical question for those who would have it otherwise is this: If government intervention into family life works, why is it that as government has intruded more on more into family life has almost every social pathology grown worse?


JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author ofThe Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR

© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn