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Bruce Lesley's picture

Twenty years ago today, leading nations of the world put aside conflicting interests and cultural differences to unite behind a common purpose -- the acknowledgment of the fundamental rights of the world's most important and most vulnerable population, our children. Indeed, the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, is the most widely recognized of any international agreement in existence today. The CRC sets forth basic human standards that ratifying nations agree to pursue on behalf of children. These are a child's right to survival, the right to develop to the fullest potential, the right to protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and the right to participate in family, cultural, and social life.

Through this inclusive, legally binding human rights treaty, the United Nations sought to give the world's children special status. And the countries that ratified the Convention use it as a guide to develop and implement policies and programs that best address and fulfill the needs of children.

In fact, out of 195 nations eligible to ratify the CRC, 193 have done so. Sadly, the United States is one of just two nations that have not ratified the document, joining only Somalia, which currently has no recognized national government. Iran, Syria, and North Korea are just some of the countries that have endorsed this document, known as the most rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history.

What is holding the United States back? Well, we know it's not the American public. A recent poll conducted by respected public opinion firm Lake Research Partners and First Focus, a bipartisan children's advocacy organization, found that, by a four to one margin (62-14%), Americans favor the ratification of the CRC. And this is true across party lines, as a majority of Democrat, Republican, and Independent voters favor ratification. In fact, voters are more than five times as likely to strongly favor ratification as they are to strongly oppose this action.

Across the globe, the CRC has been a catalyst for changing public policy, laws, and programs to improve the lives of children. The last twenty years have seen child well-being improve throughout the world, as governments and citizens have used the CRC's principles to view and prioritize young people in a new and comprehensive way.

In the U.S., the CRC would serve as a framework from which our leaders could improve federal programs addressing the specific needs of children and their families. Because of the reporting requirements contained in the CRC, our leaders would be compelled to reassess the state of children in the U.S. and undertake new and innovative efforts that will improve their lives. This type of change is needed now more than ever in our nation, as federal spending on children's programs make up less than ten percent of the entire non-defense budget.

America has always been about ensuring a brighter future for our children and grandchildren. But in our nation today, there are more than 14 million children living in poverty, 9 million kids without health insurance, and 1.2 million students dropping out of school each year.

Although we often view our nation as first among all countries, in measures of our children, we rarely break the top ten. Tragically, the United States ranks 20th out of 21 industrialized nations in measures of child poverty and well-being. America has the second worst infant mortality rate, and our graduation rate places us 13th in the world.

Ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child would force our leaders to pay much-needed attention to the status of our children, and measure their progress against that of other countries. This undertaking transcends party politics and campaign rhetoric. In order to escalate our children back to the top, all our elected leaders must acknowledge this challenge, and work together to ensure our nation provides every child a chance to achieve the American Dream.

A Peaceful Revolution is a blog published weekly at the Huffington Post about innovative ideas to strengthen America's families through public policies, business practices, and cultural change.

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