Opinion / The Nation and the World

Children’s rights need to be prioritized in the United States

The Declaration of Independence acknowledged the “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all. Yet our Constitution fails to consider them for children, the contingent that represents our future. There are two steps I believe are necessary to prioritize children’s rights in the U.S.

Children lives are put at risk due to the U.S. states lack of attention on issues, like child marriage, corporal punishment, and child labor. There is a serious issue with child marriage rates in many states. According to Pew Research Center, in at least 36 states, minors can marry with judicial consent and in 34 states, 16- and 17-year-olds can marry with their parents’ permission. In fact, 57 800 minors in the U.S. ages 15 to 17 were married as of 2014. Also, the U.S. struggles with holding schools accountable for corporal punishment. Through a study done by the University of New Hampshire, the rate of corporal punishment in homes was 49% in the past year for children ages zero to nine, 23% for youth 10 to 17, and 37% overall. In terms of child labor rates, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of minors employed in violation of child labor laws rose by 283% from 2015 to 2022. Additionally, 20 million children in the U.S. do not receive basic healthcare. 

To address these unacceptable risks, the U.S. can rectify this by joining the other United Nations member states in ratifying the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which sets out government obligations for children’s well-being and protection. By ratifying related UNCRC components, which cover rights to survival, development, and protection, children’s rights to life can be safeguarded.

Additionally, the US should add an amendment to the Constitution that protects children’s rights to safety, education, and self-expression – securities that are fundamental to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Specifically, the amendment must ensure nationwide standards for access to and quality of education; current inconsistencies were painfully evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the National Institutes of Health. Improving equality would support efforts by less affluent communities to reduce crime, increase employment, and generate higher tax collections that could, in turn, fund important educational programs. 

An amendment that protects children’s rights would empower youth, benefit families and communities, and strengthen our collective democracy. Importantly, it would improve our nation’s global human rights standing by enshrining the fundamental human dignity of every child in our constitution.

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