The XX Factor

The U.S. Won’t Ratify a Treaty to Help Child Migrants Because Conservatives Want to Spank Their Kids

A demonstration by immigrant students for an end to deportations.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The United States’ treatment of the influx of child migrants from Central America, an influx caused in part by young people fleeing violence, has exposed some serious problems with our country’s system of dealing with undocumented immigrants. The children are too often kept in overcrowded and unhealthy detention centers and they face nearly insurmountable legal obstacles that put them in real danger of being sent straight back to the violent situations they had to cross 1,500 miles to escape.

Much of this process just happen to be in direct violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that expects signatory countries to use a “best interests” of the child standard in crafting laws regarding minors, and that every child migrant be given legal counsel for their immigration hearings. The United States, however, has not ratified the UN treaty, making it the only country in the world besides Somalia not to do so. As Erika Eichelberger of Mother Jones reports, the reason the U.S. has not ratified the treaty is because our country’s very powerful Christian right has blocked any attempt to do so, mostly because they’re afraid that it will make it illegal to spank your children.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has long been a conservative hobby-horse, an issue seized on by conservatives fired up by home-schooling advocate Michael Farris. Farris believes, among other things, that if the United States signed the treaty, “parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children,” parents wouldn’t be able to keep their kids out of sex education, and that children could choose their own religion. Such issues are red meat for conservatives—so much so that treaty opposition is even a plank in the Iowa GOP platform. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney came out against it in 2012.

Of course, since the Convention is just an agreement to try to do better by children, ratifying it would in no way guarantee that child migrants would get better treatment. “After all, the United States is already in violation of other international human rights treaties it has ratified that prohibit the country from returning immigrants to countries where they will be tortured, persecuted, or killed, says Michelle Brané, an immigration detention expert at the Women’s Refugee Commission,” Eichelberger writes. Nonetheless, having a document that spells out what we promise, as a country, to do for children would provide clarity in the debate over how to handle this child migrant crisis. Unfortunately, this country is in thrall of a religious minority whose desire to control its own children, with violence if necessary, apparently trumps the human rights of all children, even those that aren’t their own. 

Correction, Aug. 7, 2014: This post, including its headline, originally misstated that the U.S. has not signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. has signed it but has not ratified it.