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Obama Seeks to Join Global Rights of Child Pact

Resource type: News

The Associated Press |

The Obama administration is reviving efforts to have the United States sign onto a global children’s rights treaty ratified by every U.N. member except the U.S. and Somalia, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Monday.

Administration officials are actively discussing “when and how it might be possible to join,” Rice, a Cabinet-level official, said while visiting a school in Harlem and fielding a teenager’s specific question about the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

She did not provide a specific timetable for the decision and has said previously only that the administration would conduct a legal review of the treaty.

But during her a brief question-and-answer session with 120 junior high school students at Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit educational facility, Rice acnowledged that the effort was long overdue given that “the only two countries” are the United States and the lawless Horn of Africa nation.

“It’s a long story,” she said of the nearly 20-year-old treaty that has become such a point of contention in the United States, not to mention Somalia.

The treaty says children have basic rights to education, health care and protection from abuse. Its supporters have used it to improve child protection laws for schools and courts in places like Lebanon, South Korea, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Democrats from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to California Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of a Senate subcommittee on human rights, have advocated pushing for Senate ratification of the treaty, which requires two-thirds approval in the 100-seat chamber.

But opponents in the U.S. have long argued that it could open the door to outside interference from government and U.N. officials in what they say are parents’ rights to raise a child as they see fit. Republicans in Congress also have put forward a measure that has gained limited support but is aimed at blocking such a treaty.

Since the treaty took effect in 1990, it has been ratified by 193 nations. The Clinton administration signed it in 1995 but never submitted the treaty for Senate approval, bowing to opposition from some senators.

Rice joined UNICEF officials Monday to speak to students about her trip with other U.N. Security Council members to the Congo in May and to inspire them to see “how they can contribute in a tangible way and save lives.”

Eighth- and ninth-graders from the Promise Academy charter schools got to vote on how to spend $12,000 on supplies that UNICEF will send to the Congo, which has been wracked by conflict since genocidal forces from Rwanda fled into its forested mountains 15 years ago.

The conflict in eastern Congo at its height drew in half a dozen of the country’s neighbors, each greedy for a share of the region’s rich mineral resources. More than 5 million have been killed and hundreds of thousands left homeless over the past decade, with rape endemic and other brutalities commonplace in rural communities.

A peace deal in 2003 reduced the fighting but both the army and rebel groups still lurking in the forests continue to attack villages and mutilate and kill civilians.

Teenagers from Harlem, a predominantly African-American part of Manhattan, said they felt good about participating by choosing between boxes of school supplies, family water kits, mosquito nets, first aid supplies, measles vaccine and carriers, protein biscuits and soccer balls and jump ropes.

“It’s an opportunity for us to feel like the ambassador,” said 16-year-old Shantae Hicks, a Harlem ninth-grader, who was leaning toward school supplies and measles vaccine.

In Kibati, Congo, several people uprooted by the violence at a U.N.-administered camp in Kibati, Congo told an Associated Press reporter in early March that they were struggling to obtain enough food and other provisions, but they felt just as badly that their children could not go to school and had nothing much to do.

Rice visited the Harlem school as part of a coordinated effort by first lady Michelle Obama and a number of cabinet officials to fan across the country donating time and emphasizing community service as part of an initiative called United We Serve.

President Barack Obama announced it in a video message last week, calling it a way for people to help in the nation’s economic recovery by volunteering at schools and hospitals and pitching in on community needs ranging from tutoring to trash pickup.

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