Twenty-five years ago, on November 20, 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. To date, the only two nations that have not signed and ratified the document are Somalia and the United States.
The Convention addresses, in part:
- “Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance…” (Article 37(d)),
- If a child is accused of breaking the law, the child has the right “[t]o have the matter determined without delay by a competent, independent and impartial authority or judicial body in a fair hearing according to law, in the presence of legal or other appropriate assistance…” (Article 40(2)(b)(iii)),
- “The establishment of a minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law” (Article 40(3)(a)),
- The right to be heard at hearings (Article 12(2)),
- That capital punishment and life in prison without possibility of parole shall not be imposed on children under the age of eighteen (Article 37(a)),
- Arrest, detention, and imprisonment of children shall conform with the law and be used “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time” (Article 37(b)),
- Children who are deprived of their liberty shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits except in exceptional circumstances (Article 37(c)), and
- Human trafficking (Article 11).
With the changes brought after Roper v. Simmons (eliminating death penalty for children), Graham v. Florida (eliminating life without parole for a non-homicide crime for children) and Miller v. Alabama (eliminating mandatory life without parole for children), many of the barriers to ratification have been removed. However, across the country and in Indiana, there is still work to be done to ensure that every child has the assistance of counsel and to establish a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction.
For those interested in working towards the U.S. ratification of the Convention, see the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.