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Spring 1999 cover

National Observer Home > No. 42 - Spring 1999 > Article

Australia and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child

Charles Francis

After the 1939-45 War, when the United Nations became established, most people looked to it with hope for the future. Primarily it was envisaged as a world authority which would above all serve to prevent wars and act as a mediator and arbitrator when disputes developed between member nations. Secondly, as the gross violations of human rights by the Nazi regime became more fully known, the United Nations was seen also as a body which would endeavour to establish and protect appropriate human rights throughout the world, policing and enforcing those human rights whenever necessary.

In 1946 the world was of course, a very different world. Most of the countries which then played a major part in the early history of the United Nations (with the exception of the U.S.S.R.) had a strong underlying Christian ethos and thus a pro-family ethos. To some extent the drafters of the postwar declarations used 20th century national constitutions as their models, adding the protection of the family and the child to those political and civil democratic rights which they wished to identify and preserve. Foremost in this process were the United States and Great Britain.

By way of example fifty years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly, asserting by Article 25(2) that "[M]otherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance" and declaring in Article 26(3) that "[P]arents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children". In pursuit of human rights, the United Nations made a number of declarations of rights, which were, for the most part, unexceptionable. Such declarations included the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, a valuable document which included within it (by way of example) Principle 6 providing that "the child shall wherever possible grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents".

The 1959 Declaration was in many ways not unlike the 1924 League of Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which had stated that "mankind owes to the child the best it has to give". Those who drafted the 1959 Declaration hoped to improve children's health, nutrition, safety and education and seem to have envisaged that ordinarily it was in the best interests of a child to develop within an integrated family under the care, guidance and control of its parents. The philosophy of the 1959 Declaration was essentially Christian, and it anticipated that, at a later date, there would be further and more detailed provisions.

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child

Three decades later in 1989 the United Nations General Assembly introduced a new Convention on the Rights of the Child which was promptly signed by 130 nations with, it would seem, singularly little debate or scrutiny and even less intelligent discussion on the legal effect of its provisions. A number of nations did, however, attach reservations to the Convention, a matter which received little publicity.

The Convention contained many platitudinous phrases as well as some ambiguous language. However many prominent lawyers became aware of problems within it and lectured and wrote on its proper interpretation warning their countries not to sign or ratify it. Unfortunately most of the representatives of the various nations which proceeded with undue haste to sign the Convention probably had no real understanding of its meaning. It was feted as a Convention in the best interests of children, and it was indicated that those nations which signed it demonstrated a commitment to the prevention of child abuse. Those who expressed concern about possible interpretation of the Convention were assured falsely, as it appears that parents' rights were fully preserved by Article 5.

A number of the supporters of this 1989 Childrens Rights Convention (now sometimes referred to as "CROC") also maintained incorrectly that its main object was the protection of children, and that it did no more than provide for those rights which were already law in more advanced democracies such as the United States . In reality, had legislation setting out similar provisions to those of the Convention been introduced into the House of Representatives in the United States (or in Australia) it would never have become law. In both countries such legislation, in order to become law, would have required a constitutional amendment which the people, once they understood its effect, would have overwhelmingly rejected.

By 1989, however, many supporters of libertarian and humanist philosophies had already realised it was far easier to implement their ideas by incorporating them in United Nations' Conventions, which their countries might thereafter ratify, rather than by attempting the more difficult (if not impossible) task of trying to pass such provisions through their countries' own legislatures, where they were likely to receive much closer scrutiny, and where the legal interpretation and actual effect of the provisions might be the subject of proper analysis and debate.

Unlike most previous Conventions, C.R.O.C. was largely drafted by Non-Governmental Organisations (N.G.O.'s) and most governments took very little interest in it during the drafting stages. N.G.O.'s are special interest bodies or groups which lobby the United Nations and, in particular, lobby at United Nations conferences. Not being nations or governments, they are not members of the United Nations They nevertheless now exercise extraordinary influence (and even power) over the agenda and deliberations that constitute so much of the United Nations' business. "Politically correct" N.G.O.'s are being given increasing status at United Nations conferences, whilst "politically incorrect" N.G.O.'s are subjected to a variety of discriminations.

In essence, the 1989 Children's Rights Convention was humanist (not Christian) in its basis. It proceeded from a philosophy that recognizes and accepts abortion, euthanasia, suicide and other acts not consistent with a religious basis. The secular proponents of the Convention appear to have realized that the traditional family, marked by strong parental authority, is an obstacle to this goal and, therefore, sought to weaken it.

The role of Mrs Hillary Clinton

In consequence the 1989 Convention gave to children a sphere of autonomy and freedom from control (in particular a freedom from parental control) and thereby introduced a radical new concept of children having wide-ranging rights entirely separate from their parents, with governments accepting the responsibility for protecting the child from the power of the parents.

Some of those who drafted the Convention seemed to have had an unusual fear of parental paternalism and wished to assert the child's right to be left alone, even within the family structure. In the United States Hillary Clinton was a strong supporter of such rights and had proposed that children and adolescents be given the same rights as adults and that they should be integrated, as fully as possible, into the adversarial system of justice.

Writing in Harper's Magazine in October 1992, Christopher Lasch, late professor of history at the University of Rochester, pointed out that Hillary Clinton's writings exemplify the view of families that so many working people find objectionable. He says "from her perspective the `traditional' family is, for the most part, an institution in need of therapy, an institution that stands in the way of children's rights and an obstacle to enlightened progress".

During her professional career Mrs Clinton has played an active part in the movement for children's rights, a movement she saw as the logical extension of earlier movements through which civil rights were extended to slaves and women. She also strongly supported the dissenting judgment of Justice William O. Douglas in Wisconsin v Yoder (1972), where Justice Douglas expressed the view that children should be entitled to be heard on the question of whether they shared their parents' religious beliefs. The uxorious Justice Douglas, a frequent dissenter, has been described as 'the quintessential loner who personified the lover of humanity who did not like people".

Like Justice Douglas, Mrs. Clinton is critical of the family wherever it tries to harness children to whatever may (in her opinion) be a narrow, stultifying view of life. Fairly similar views were held by Cynthia Price Cohen, an American lawyer who played a significant part in drafting the United Nations' Convention. Cohen was well aware that the Convention introduced entirely new autonomous personality rights for children based apparently on the doubtful premise that children are autonomous and need these new entitlements to develop their personalities.

Professor Bruce Hafen, of Brigham Young University, has observed, however, that parents who "leave their children alone" and abandon them to their autonomous rights are irresponsibly abrogating their parental duties and leaving their children a ready prey to a wide range of very undesirable influences. Indeed in England some of the strongest support for "children's rights" has come from well identified homosexual and paedophile organisations, which long ago realised that the easiest way to obtain access to children was to demand their freedom from any form of restraint, thereby exposing them to predatory behaviour of those who would harm them.

In most democratic countries, people do not believe that individual rights originate with government, but rather that they are inalienable rights that may not be impaired without due process of law, a philosophy of government which was spelt out in the American Declaration of Independence, and by implication in the United States Constitution. Even the somewhat secular minded Thomas Jefferson paid homage to this philosophy when he said that "[T]he only firm basis of freedom is a conviction in the minds of people that their liberties are the gifts of God". Otherwise, it seems, our only liberties are those reluctantly wrung (and often but temporarily) from the all powerful State.

The United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child is based on a very different concept, namely that a child's rights should originate with the United Nations' Treaty itself, or with the governments of the ratifying countries. However few people accept that parents are mere trustees, who receive such authority as we have over our children through some delegation by the State of its power over children. Rather they believe that the origin of the parent-child relationship is something entirely apart from the State, and that the State can only intervene where there is obvious and significant harm being done to the child or there is very real potential danger of harm to the child from its parents.

Unfortunately many people today have come to think of all human rights as emanating from governments or from the United Nations. This may prove to be a very dangerous belief. If the United Nations has the power to determine what rights we have, it may at a later date with changing philosophies take those very same rights away.

The United Nations originally promoted the "right to life" from the moment of conception. Today, when many of its delegations and N.G.O.'s (Non-Governmental Organisations) are promoting abortion on demand, abortion is now being promoted as a "human right". Similarly homosexual acts have for some time been promoted as "human rights".

Ratification of the Convention by Australia

To those of us in Australia who studied the Articles of the Convention it seemed that our Federal Government had, by ratifying the treaty under the foreign affairs power of our Constitution, assumed to itself rights which it never had under the Australian Constitution. Equally it would seem in the United States, if the Convention became law, Congress could invade whole new areas such as the control of school curriculums (under Articles 28 and 29) or the setting up of a national system of day care for children under Article 18, which requires State Parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure that children of working parents have the right to benefit from those child care services and facilities for which they are eligible. As in many other countries the Australian experience of day care centres funded by government (whether federal, state or municipal) indicates that where the husband is the main or sole breadwinner, the added tax burden of providing these facilities for others increasingly drives mothers of quite young children into the work force.

Whilst some Articles of the Convention are praiseworthy (as for example its prohibition on slavery, and child prostitution) or unobjectionable, for parents there are five Articles, Articles 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16, which could, in particular, create grave difficulties for them in their relationships with and control of their children. These Articles appear to be the spearhead of a very serious invasion of parental rights. The prominent American Christian leader Dr James Dobson states unequivocally that they will drive a wedge between parents and children. An almost precisely similar viewpoint was expressed by Barry Maley, Senior Fellow of the Australian Centre for Independent Studies, when he said the Convention would create scope for bitter disputes between children and their parents and hence opportunities for public servants and courts to step into family affairs "to protect children's rights". It is also apparent that these Articles (unless subjected to important qualifications) are diametrically opposed to the notions of parental rights expressed by the Vatican and most other Christian denominations, and indeed are opposed to the notions of nearly all religions.

Article 12 Freedom of Expression

Article 12 is the first Article in this chain of five articles which provide a libertarian charter of autonomous children's rights. Its implications therefore require some close attention. Article 12 assures to a child the right to express views freely in all matters affecting the child, the view of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. But who is to determine the maturity of the child and what weight is to be attached to those views? Obviously not the parents alone.

The purpose behind this Article is not necessarily immediately apparent. It would seem at the very least that where a parent purported to lay down the law on any topic within the home, as for example the time at which a 14 year old girl is required to be home in the evening, there is at least a charter for protracted debate.

It now seems clear that Article 12 was included as a preliminary right to enable children to ventilate elsewhere their disagreement with parental rulings. Carried to its logical conclusion the child, who is aware of his rights, should always be able to achieve some form of state intervention at least to review any parental conduct which in the child's view is not in his best interests.

Because Article 12 couples within it an insistence on the right of the child to be heard in judicial and also administrative proceedings affecting the child, it is apparent that the intention of this Article does not simply relate to such matters as the child's right to be heard in relation to its custody in divorce proceedings between parents, which are judicial not administrative proceedings. Article 12 is thus fairly plainly a preliminary right which, inter alia, will enable the child to enforce the rights guaranteed by Articles 13 16 in proceedings against the child's parents if some state official considers it is appropriate.

Article 13 Freedom in Respect of Information and Ideas

Article 13 assures to the child the right of freedom of expression, which is declared to include "freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds".

In practice it would seem Article 13 will make it impossible for parents to resist the exposure of their children in schools and elsewhere to material which many parents may legitimately find objectionable on religious, moral or other grounds. In fact in Australia, on one occasion when a family sought to persuade their daughter's school that some of its curriculum was inappropriate for young secondary students, the Department of Secondary Education in defending the school's authority to override parental rights and wishes, invoked the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

As we now live in communities in which homosexuality is legal, and as our Governments have been at pains to remove any stigma from homosexual and lesbian activities (even to the extent of providing funds for such groups), it would seem abundantly clear that the active promotion of the notion of homosexuality as a valid life style is now regarded as a legitimate and lawful activity. The right of the child to receive such information, if the child (not the parent) wishes to receive it, would appear to be guaranteed by Article 13 regardless of the wishes of the parents. If such a viewpoint were being taught within a school, that fact might not necessarily be drawn to the attention of the parents at all, but if it were, it is probable the parents would have no right to intervene.

No longer will a parent necessarily have the right to withdraw a child from extra curricula classes, such as sex education, if the parent disapproves of the manner in which the subject is taught. The parent who sought to prevent a teacher informing his fourteen year old son that he should consider adopting a homosexual life style could be at risk of being in breach of the Convention. Thus although our children's bodies may still be protected by the criminal law, we are no longer provided with any adequate protection of their minds.

Insofar as Article 13 places any restriction on the right of the child to receive information, that restriction must not only be provided by law but it must also be found to be necessary. Presumably in the future it will be a government body or official who will determine whether or not the restriction is necessary. That would appear to give such a body or officer the right to override particular Commonwealth or State laws on subjects such as pornography, where that board or officer holds an opinion different from that of the legislature. It would also give the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child the right to overrule Commonwealth and State laws.

In this context it is not without significance to consider some of the information for children already provided by agencies of the United Nations, because it would be reasonable to assume that the Convention would support the unrestricted dissemination of such material. The United Nations Children's Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.) has already reproduced two sex education films, "The Blue Pigeon" and "Music for Two", to which many parents would take strong objection. "The Blue Pigeon" is a cartoon targeted at 10 to 12 year old children, which graphically depicts sexual intercourse between two children attending a children's picnic. "Music for Two" depicts the fantasies of a young girl. In her fantasy as a married woman she sees herself as tired, overworked and overburdened, with an indifferent and uninterested husband. By contrast sexual intercourse with a boy neighbour is graphically depicted as a happy commitment-free sexual relationship.

It takes no genius to discern this message of approval for sexual activity outside marriage and even for children at a very young age. Parents need to understand that this is the type of "information" which the United Nations appears to wish to "impart" to their children. As the recent N.G.O. Forum and Youth Forum held at the Hague in February 1999 the Youth document prepared by N.G.O.'s calls for reproductive education for children in grade school and omits any parental supervision completely. There were also proposals that children from the age of 10 upwards should be provided with contraceptives, abortifacients and abortion. A number of N.G.O.'s recommended that parents should not have any involvement in their children's sex education programmes and should not even know the contents of the programmes, presumably lest they might seek to interfere.

One is entitled to assume that children will not be protected from receiving such U.N.I.C.E.F. information, nor will they necessarily be protected from blasphemous or other offensive material, any prevention of reception being prima facie an express breach of Article 13. It is, of course, not information such as this which children need, but rather the proper and constructive formation of their characters.

It is also to be noted that the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child was critical of the fact that in England when parents withdrew children from school sex education programmes, which the parents considered unsuitable, no adequate machinery existed for the child to ventilate dissent from the parental decision.

Article 14 Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion

Article 14 declares the "right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion". By the Convention parents and guardians are afforded only the limited right to direct children in the exercise of this right. Nor is any real protection given even to that limited right. It is one to which the State "gives respect", but the right cannot be enforced and in its entire context "giving respect" appears to be almost valueless. As the only parental right mentioned in the Article is the right of parents to direct, it seems implicit that a parent in the future will not be able to require a young child to go to church or sunday school, if the child does not wish to do so.

Speaking in Ireland in March 1997 Professor Bruce Hafen expressed the view that any parent who sought to compel a child to go to Mass might well be in breach of the Convention. Dr James Dobson has suggested that the real freedom given by Article 14 is a freedom from any form of parental control, and suggests that the parental role under the Convention is only to provide a state-monitored influence. In this regard there appears to be no parental right to control the child's practice of a religion.

Parents may also find that Article 14 may create difficulties for them if they are confronted with a relatively young child who wishes to join some fringe religious sect, or an adolescent who wants to associate with a satanic cult. The parent would have a right to advise, but not necessarily any right to intervene. As children increasingly become aware of the contents of Article 14, it will become a growing difficulty for parents who try to encourage their children to adhere to the traditional religious practices of the family.

Satanic cults are particularly interested in young adolescents and will, no doubt, soon be aware of the misuse that can be made of Article 14 by enabling strangers to attract children away from the religion of their family. Satanist groups are well-organised and, in practice, it is most difficult to control their activities.

Article 15 Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly

Article 15 "recognises" the rights of the child to freedom of association and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Such rights will make it difficult for parents to resist associations by their children with persons whom parents find objectionable or whom they consider (perhaps with complete justification) to be a bad influence on their children. The right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly seem peculiarly inappropriate rights to be given to young children or adolescents. Nor are the rights in this instance qualified by any parental right, to be exercised in a accordance with the age and maturity of the child. These rights are as unfettered as the corresponding rights of any adult. In some Australian towns where young teenage vandalism and crime is rife, teenage curfews have been introduced. Usually they have proved successful, but civil libertarians have already complained that they are a breach of Article 15. In the United States, where the Convention has not been ratified, the Supreme Court has upheld the lawfulness of such curfews.

Governments are committed, pursuant to the Convention, to teaching children even at primary level about these various rights. In Australia some material has been prepared for this purpose. As a consequence some parents in our country have already been confronted with the situation in which children have come home and announced that they will no longer perform those household duties which have been allocated to them within the home, because they have now become informed at school of their "human rights". This new right of freedom of association, coupled with the child's knowledge of that right, will make it virtually impossible for parents to prevent inappropriate and even harmful associations.

Article 16 Rights to Privacy

Article 16 includes protection of the child's right not to be "subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy". The inclusion of the word "arbitrary" may permit children to resist intrusion by parents into anything that children consider to be private to them, including medical treatments, and presumably any intrusion whatever which may occur in the child's bedroom or any other part of a home set aside for the use of a child. The medical practitioner, who without the parents knowledge and without reference to them, provides a twelve year old daughter with contraceptive pills, could no doubt justify his or her conduct by the verbiage of Article 16. Indeed any communication by the medical practitioner to the parents might be an offence where the Convention is recognised as the law. This Article would greatly strengthen the position of Planned Parenthood, which has already pursued the practice of putting relatively young girls on contraceptive pills without reference to their parents. In the United States the Supreme Court has upheld privacy rights for children in the context of abortion and contraception. Mature minors (maturity being determined by a judge) can have an abortion without parental consent, or any minor if the judge thinks the abortion is in the child's best interests.

By facilitating the situation in which an adolescent girl can have an abortion without the consent (or even the knowledge) of her parents, Article 16 also significantly increases for her the dangers which are now well identified as those unfortunate sequelae of abortion, even though performed by properly qualified obstetrician-gynaecologists. Unlike other members of the medical profession, abortionists seldom have any genuine interest in their patient's welfare. It appears they generally perform abortions for one reason only abortions (as now performed in Australia and America) represent quick and easy money. The woman (or girl) concerned is seldom given any proper counselling, nor is she warned, or at least warned adequately, of the medical risks. If she received adequate advice in order to make an informed choice, she might well decide against the abortion and the abortionist would lose financially.

As a matter of reality abortion is a far from safe medical procedure and in the United States some of the many troublesome consequences of abortion are well documented. Apart from actual physical damage (such as resulting permanent sterility) the majority of women aborted suffer not insignificant psychiatric damage. Sometimes the psychiatric damage is very severe. The link between abortion and breast cancer is now well established, the second highest risk group being young girls having a termination of their first pregnancy, a sad fact of life which the typical abortionist would never draw to the attention of an adolescent patient. Despite what she may herself think, when an adolescent girl becomes pregnant she desperately needs the good counsel of her parents. The right of medical privacy created by Article 16 will often create a situation in which she is deprived of that benefit.

Formal Reservations or Qualifications to the Convention

Whilst some of the rights set out in Articles 12 to 16 are subject to vague qualifications, such as the need to protect public safety, order, health or morals, they make quite inadequate provision for the subjective judgment by parents as to what is the best interests of their children. Articles 12 to 16 were some of the Articles for which the Vatican required an express reservation, viz

"(b)that it interprets the Articles of the Convention in a way that safeguards the primary and inalienable rights of parents, in particular insofar as these rights concern education (Articles 13 and 28) religion (Article 14) association with others (Article 15) and privacy (Article 16)."

The provisions of this reservation (or qualification) entirely change the legal effect of those Articles, but no such provisions were ever introduced into the Convention. Some of the persons responsible for drafting the Convention were well aware that its Articles were without such qualifications overrode parental rights, but wanted that situation to persist. The course pursued by the Vatican has had some unfortunate and doubtless entirely unintended consequences. Supporters of the Convention have pointed to the fact that the Vatican also signed it, but seldom mentioned the Vatican's reservations which preserved all the normal rights of parents and so produced a very different interpretation of the Convention.

How the United Nations itself interprets the Convention became crystal clear when the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in its 1995 Report was critical of the Vatican reservations and wanted them to be withdrawn. Obviously the Committee did not want to protect or recognise the inalienable rights of parents.

Article 17 of the Convention entrusts to the mass media a responsibility for providing children with information and material for their "social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health". Much of the material produced by the mass media in the last decade, however, raises serious doubts as to the desirability of entrusting any functions whatever of this nature to it.

Supporters of the Convention point to Article 5 as being a safeguard for the rights of parents. A careful analysis of the wording of Article 5 coupled with the normal canons of legal interpretation suggest, however, that Article 5 is probably of very little value at all to parents. Because Articles 12 to 16 appear after Article 5 in the Convention (and not before it) insofar as their provisions appear to be inconsistent with the provisions of Article 5 they override it. Article 5 requires the State party to the Convention to respect the rights of parents "to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognised in the present convention." It is to be noted however, that the right "to control" the child is omitted from Article 5, presumably a deliberate omission. It also limits all parental rights to those consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, such capacities, no doubt, to be determined ultimately by some designated official and not the parents. The Reports of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child make it apparent that the Committee does not consider that this article constitutes any real impediment to the Committee or the State overriding parental decisions in relation to the direction and guidance of their children whenever they chose to do so. Unless Articles 12 to 16 are construed as having the capacity to override the rights of parents mentioned in Article 5, then those Articles would be essentially meaningless.

Bureaucratic Conventions

Articles 12 to 16 plainly infer that parental conduct will be subject to external scrutiny. Indeed it is implicit in the Convention that the signatories to it will police parents within their countries to ensure compliance. If the new rights are to be meaningful, obviously the child must have a right of appeal against parental direction or guidance, whenever it is considered by the child to be unfair or perhaps even merely irksome. Presumably such appeals will be to some designated government commission, board or official. We can look forward therefore to new bureaucracies which will investigate children's complaints, summon parents for questioning whenever they think it appropriate, and arbitrate on family disputes. It would be a bureaucracy, which in the hands of an empire builder, would have virtually unlimited scope for expansion. Already the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child sees itself as a supervisory body with a duty to ensure the child's rights under the Convention are enforced within the signatory nations.

The 17th Report of the Australian Joint Standing Federal Committee on Treaties (August 1998) envisages the possibility that there may be an Office for Children and/or a Children's Commissioner. The Report said:

"The Committee believes that if an Office for Children were established in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and an appropriate complaints mechanism were developed with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and/or the Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office, then a separate Children's Commissioner would not be necessary. We acknowledge, however, that the Government may see it as more appropriate to combine all of these functions within an independent Commission for Children. A Commission for Children could be a viable alternative to the above approach provided all of the above functions were included and adequate resources were made available for its operation."

In the light of the ruling of the High Court in Teoh v Minister Immigration and Ethnic Affairs 183 CLR 273, it may, however, be that the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, as the prime enforcer of "human rights" in Australia, will consider that it now has the power and the duty to enforce against parents any autonomous libertarian rights which have already been vested in children by virtue of Articles 12 to 16 of the Convention.

Family Planning and Abortion

Other articles of the Convention, such as Article 24 which grants the right to family planning education, raise further serious issues. "Family planning", in United Nations' terms, has ordinarily included abortion on demand.

The long term record of United Nations organisations and United Nations sponsored bodies which provide for abortion and sterilisation programs in third world countries clearly demonstrate just what is involved in so-called family planning. The most precious right of the conceived child to be born alive, has for all practical purposes ceased to exist.

In its 1995 Report the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child also expressed concern that the Vatican paid "insufficient attention to the promotion of education of children on health matters, the development of preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and services, in the light of the provisions of the Convention". Here one sees the not-so-hidden agenda of proponents of the Convention. The Vatican must be pressured to provide family planning services, that is, abortion, contraception and sterilisation, despite the special safeguards and protection for the unborn mentioned in the Preamble to the Convention.

Implications of the Convention

In the United States amongst many others Congressman Thomas J. Bliley Junior sounded a very strong warning against the Convention. He said, "Ratification (of the Convention) is not about children. It is about power. It is a potential threat to some of our most precious freedoms, civil liberties and our form of government."

The Convention undoubtedly represents a serious overriding of parental rights. A careful analysis of its terms raises the implication that, despite some lip service to the parental role, its ultimate enforcement will prove to be anti-parent, and that many important decisions on the appropriate education, philosophy, morality and religion for all children will finally vest in the State, or the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, an unelected body, which claims to be responsible only to the children of the world (and which therefore ultimately is responsible to no-one).

The Convention may also have as an indirect consequence a reduction in parental commitment to child rearing, thereby increasing the dependency of children on the state. In California the Emancipation of Minors Act 1982 brought many parents to the realisation they might not only avoid responsibility for the support of children who had reached fourteen years of age but also avoid vicarious liability for their conduct. These parents encourage their children to use the legislation to live independently of them at an early stage.

As mentioned above, unlike most other U.N. Conventions, the Convention was largely drafted by Non Government Organisations and in the 1980s derived its main support from radicals in the United States and additional support from some representatives of the old Eastern block countries, who realised the Convention reinforced the claimed right of the Communist state to control children. In the United States however the Bush Executive was well aware of some of the Convention's many traps and refused to sign it. In view of Hillary Clinton's beliefs, however, it was no surprise when in February 1995 her obedient husband Bill signed it. By that time, however, many lawyers and other experts such as Dr James Dobson, had lectured and written on the Convention in the United States and knowledge of its proper interpretation and effect had become widespread.

In the United States, U.N. Conventions as foreign treaties must go to the Senate for ratification. Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Helms, received more than 5,000 letters opposing its ratification and one only supporting it. On 14 June 1995 he told the Senate, "The truth is the American people are just not buying this bag of worms . . . The U.N. Convention is incompatible with God-given rights and responsibilities of parents to raise their children. It is grotesque even to imagine handing this important privilege over to U.N. bureaucrats. The laws and traditions of the United States affirm the right of parents to raise their children and to transmit to them their values and religious beliefs." Many Senators strongly supported Senator Helms' resolution that the Convention should not be submitted for ratification. No doubt, however, there will hereafter be pressure from time to time on the U.S. Senate to ratify the Convention.

What has happened in Switzerland may give some indication of what may arise hereafter in the United States. Although Switzerland is not a member of the United Nations, it signs most international treaties. After 1991, when Switzerland signed the Convention, the general attitude in most of the Swiss mass-media towards the Convention was impatience and criticism that the Swiss Government had not ratified it. In 1992 a non-party working group was formed in Switzerland to alert the Swiss Government to the dangers of the Convention. Lectures took place, circulars and publications in journals were printed to spread information and as a result many citizens communicated to their members of parliament. Nevertheless, eventually in February 1997 Switzerland did ratify the Convention, but included several reservations, some of which attempt to protect to some extent the parental right to educate their own children. However the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has continued to demand that all reservations on the Convention should be withdrawn.

The Role of Senator Gareth Evans

Australia was quick to sign and ratify the Convention, and Senator Evans, the Minister responsible, in discussing the Convention in the Senate had the effrontery to say that it did not change the law in Australia one jot or tittle and conveyed the impression that existing legislation in Australia was in harmony with the law in the Convention.

To say the least, this statement was misleading, and in any event Senator Evan's view appears to have been debunked by the judgments of the High Court in Teoh's case.

To give but one example, prior to the signing and ratification of the Convention, the Federal Government had no power to establish an authority which could intervene to enable a child to participate in a sex-education program of which its parents disapproved. Some of the Reports of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child make it plain that that Committee believes the ratification of the Convention has created a duty in each signatory to make the Convention the law of their country and that it expects all signatories to do so. Many of the lawyers who sought publicly to identify the dangers of the Convention (both prior to its ratification and thereafter) gave quite specific warnings that the Convention was open to this interpretation. At that time many of the supporters of the Convention asserted that such warnings were "false" or "mischievous".

Creating a situation in which the Federal Government acquired new powers so that it can intervene to diminish Australian parent's control over their children may well have been in keeping with Senator Evan's philosophy but it is expected that this position will not be adopted by the government of Mr. Howard.

Commonwealth Joint Committee on Treaties

In Australia the Commonwealth Government's Joint Committee on Treaties conducted hearings on the Convention throughout 1997. It received numerous written and oral submissions on the treaty, the preponderance of submissions attacking the Convention and indicating widespread dissatisfaction with it. Amongst the submissions supporting the Convention many appear to have thought that it would somehow reduce child abuse, but often showed little real understanding of the problems created by it.

Although there were some differing opinions on the proper interpretation of the Convention, a strong consensus of very well qualified lawyers expressed the view that the proper interpretation of the Convention involved a very serious invasion of the rights and responsibilities of parents (thus they had reached precisely the same view which caused the United States Senate to reject the Convention). There was a long delay in the delivery of the Committee's Report which in some quarters created the impression that the Committee might well be in a quandary about the many problems created by Australia's ratification of the Convention.

When the Report was finally handed down it proved to many a real disappointment. In many instances the Report details concerns expressed in the submissions made to it but often fails to answer the question whether those concerns are justified or not, nor in some instances does it take any appropriate steps to deal with what are important and grave concerns. The Majority Report should at least have made it completely clear that it entirely rejects the concept of the autonomous child with libertarian humanist rights. That concept has nothing to do with protecting children from abuse and is readily severable from what is valuable in the Convention.

To those who have no proper understanding of the problems created by the Convention, the Majority Report might seem a reasonably satisfactory report. However, the excellent Minority Report by Senator Abetz, the Hon. Peter McGauran and Senator O'Chee highlights some of the many deficiencies in the Majority's Report. They suggest that Australia should denounce the Convention ("denounce" being the term United Nations uses when one gives notice of intention to no longer be bound by a Convention) and the Minority Report goes on to propose:

"In giving that notice, Australia should make it clear that its purpose in doing so is to enable it to re-sign the very day after the renunciation takes effect with reservations protecting the traditional role of the family and rejecting the concept of the autonomous child. This action will alert the international community to the genuine concerns which the Australian people have with the C.R.O.C.

Secondly, Australia should agitate for substantial amendments to the C.R.O.C. to clearly spell out the pre-eminent role of the family and the rejection of the autonomous child concept."

It may be hoped that the government of Mr. Howard will not only read the Minority Report, but will also take appropriate steps to curtail this unfortunate ideological fetter, which the United States Senate rejected, but which Senator Evans was only too happy to tie round the necks of the Australian people.

Indeed, the ratification of some of the more recent U.N. Conventions is gradually creating a situation in which Australia is increasingly being dominated by alien ideologies, ideologies which are antithetical to the Australian love of freedom and which are diametrically opposed to the original culture of Western Christian democracies. The creation of powerful U.N. bureaucracies such as United Nations' C.R.O.C. Committee facilitates the growth of what is sometimes referred to as "cultural marxism" or "cultural nihilism".

Sadly this is a cultural war which at present we seem to be losing; and it is a war which could lead to our cultural disintegration.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has the gravest potential to damage, if not destroy, the family as we know it. Ultimately it will seek to set up a monolithic United Nations body, which will determine how all the children in the world will be educated and controlled, and what philosophies will be imparted to them.

Responsible parents realise that children, and especially adolescents, need to be protected against their own actions and, in particular, those actions which spring from a lack of mature judgment.

Liberationist philosophy, which embraces abortion on demand, homosexual rights, the right to distribute and read all pornography, and, more recently, the right to euthanasia has already demonstrated enormous potential for harm.

The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has an equally frightening potential for the ultimate destruction of Western family values.

National Observer No. 42 - Spring 1999