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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and child welfare policy

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. Since then, December has come to be recognized as Universal Human Rights Month and December 10, Universal Human Rights Day.

Last year we blogged about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been signed but not yet ratified by the U.S., and LGBT youth in foster care in recognition of Universal Human Rights Month. This year, I thought I would focus on a few Articles in the Declaration and how we have (or perhaps have not) addressed them in federal and/or state policies.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is technically a non-binding declaration. There are two international covenants that developed as a result of the UDHR that are considered legally binding, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The U.S. has not yet ratified the ICESCR. Check out this link to see upon which major human rights treaties the U.S. has acted.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Though I haven't seen every single child welfare policy in the U.S. related to cruel treatment and punishment of children, I am going to go out on a limb and say that every policy related to child abuse includes some statement on this. For example, Minnesota's mandated reporting statute (626.556) includes within its definition of substantial child endangerment "egregious harm as defined in section 260C.007, subdivision 14...[and] malicious punishment or neglect or endangerment of a child under section 609.377 or 609.378."

Article 25

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

This article falls under the auspices of the ICESCR, which as I stated previously, the U.S. has not yet ratified. (There is intense debate about the extent to which the government should go to provide such items and services under the mentioned circumstances.)

However, this article's basic premise is found within child welfare policy. In addition to protecting children from inhumane treatment, child welfare professionals and systems are charged with ensuring the overall well-being of children when their primary caregivers are struggling or unable to do so.

Article 26

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. (2) [Omitted - not relevant to this post.] (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Again, this falls under the ICESCR, but our child welfare policies have also incorporated this article. Educational neglect is considered a form of maltreatment. In Minnesota, the statute governing educational neglect (260C.163 subd. 11) emphasizes situations involving children under the age of 12. At the age of 12, most students have completed what constitutes primary education in the U.S. (also known as elementary education); therefore, Minnesota's educational neglect policy essentially corresponds to Article 26.

The U.S. & UN human rights treaties

The U.S. has demonstrated reluctance in signing and ratifying major human rights treaties, despite its prominent role in the United Nations and in the development of several such treaties. For example, recently the U.S. Senate voted to reject the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities; this is in addition to the numerous failed attempts to ratify other treaties, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Furthermore, there are several treaties that the U.S. has not yet signed. There are arguments for and against ratification of international treaties.

How do you feel about ratifying international treaties, and why? Leave a comment below!

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