February 5, 2001

February 5, 2001 | Executive Summary on International Organizations

Executive Summary: How U.N. Conventions On Women's and Children's Rights Undermine Family, Religion, and Sovereignty

As Bush Administration officials at the U.S. Department of State begin to familiarize themselves with the activities of the United Nations and its many affiliated agencies, they will be inundated with reports about mission creep, overstretched resources and waste, unfair dues assessments, and other problems repeatedly targeted for reform by Congress. One area, however, deserves focused attention: how various U.N. agencies are attempting to force countries to implement a radical interpretation of treaties on women's and children's rights. Like oversight of how the federal government implements the laws Congress passes, oversight of how U.N. agencies implement treaties, conventions, and agreements is vital to assure Americans that the activities funded comport with U.S. policy and are not inimical to U.S. interests.

A close examination of the reports issued by U.N. committees monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) shows that these committees are pushing an agenda that counters traditional moral and social norms regarding the family, marriage, motherhood, and religion. The advice that these agents of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights and other agencies give individual signatories often violates the language of the U.N.'s own founding documents and undermines a nation's sovereign right to determine its own domestic policy. The policies and laws they push also promote behavior that ultimately will cause greater harm to women and children, increasing family breakdown and the many problems associated with it.

As this report will show, the committees are very direct about what they want. One of them, for example, expressed concern that parents in England and Wales were allowed to withdraw their children from sex education programs in school; another criticized the celebration of Mothers' Day in Belarus because it allegedly promoted a "sex-role stereotype." Committees have criticized "cultural and religious values" that support mothers staying at home to raise their young children, because they "undermine the universality of women's rights." They have urged countries to institute legal structures that would allow children to take their parents to court when they disagree about the content of sex education. They advise countries that prohibit prostitution to legitimize it, and countries that have relaxed their laws against prostitution to extend to prostitution all the legal rights afforded other professions. And they have criticized conscientious objection clauses in laws for doctors that object to abortion.

In general, the social policy agents at these U.N. committees, working often with radical special-interest groups, advise nations to alter the very structure of their societies to decrease the emphasis on marriage, the nuclear family, parental authority, and religious beliefs; mothers are encouraged to find fulfillment by leaving their children in the care of strangers and entering the workforce, and social or legal restraints on sexual activity among adolescents are targeted for removal. Surprisingly, these committees ignore the mounting evidence that the basic family unit of married parents who worship yields far superior social outcomes for children's health, intellectual development, and educational and income attainment, and lower rates of crime, welfare dependency, and teenage pregnancy. They also ignore polls that show most mothers would prefer staying home to raise their young children.

Although the United States has not ratified these conventions, the Clinton Administration supported the agenda of the U.N. implementing committees. The Bush Administration and Congress now have an opportunity to make a strong statement: The United States firmly supports parents' rights and national sovereignty and will oppose the efforts of U.N. agents to impose their radical agenda on any country, especially small and poor ones. The State Department should review the reports of these committees and devise a strategy to reduce the threat that their proposals pose to all societies. Specifically:

  • Make clear that the United States will not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child or sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women because of the implementing committees' controversial interpretations.

  • Make clear that the United States firmly supports the right of parents to make decisions regarding the health, education, and religious upbringing of their children.

  • Urge other nations, especially poor and lesser developed nations, on a selective basis to refuse to cooperate with U.N. committee reporting systems in these areas because the directions they receive violate traditional family and religious norms.

  • Establish ways to counter any threat or reprisals at the U.N. against nations, especially poor countries, that seek to defend their cultures, religious beliefs, and families.

  • Conduct hearings on the efforts of U.N. committees to implement policies that undermine the family, religious freedom, and national sovereignty.

  • Demand that the State Department submit by a fixed date an annual detailed report of the activities and spending of U.N. committees that deal with family and religious issues, and use the evidence in these reports to reduce funding for any activities aimed at changing traditional family and religious norms.

  • Request the U.S. General Accounting Office to assess the flow of funds from the United States to non-governmental organizations acting under U.N. auspices to implement the committees' radical agenda.

  • Start a new alliance at the U.N. with countries that will work to protect and strengthen social structures supporting the family, religious freedom, and national sovereignty.

Patrick F. Fagan is William H. G. FitzGerald Fellow in Family and Cultural Issues at The Heritage Foundation.

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