Joe Biden

Legal protections in every single US state fall short of international children’s rights stands, a major human rights NGO has said. Human Rights Watch has made the claim about the USA – the only UN member state that hasn’t ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to Human Rights Watch, children in the US can be legally married in 41 states, physically punished by school administrators in 47 states and sentenced to life without parole in 22 states. Astonishingly, in all 50 US states, children are allowed to work in hazardous agricultural conditions.

Human Rights Watch has issued its damning assessment one year after it released a scorecard that measures US compliance with key international rights standards. The NGO says that 11 states have enacted reforms since the scorecard’s initial publication that have improved their rankings, but remains highly critical of the pace of progress.

“It’s disappointing that so many states still fail to meet international children’s rights standards, but this progress shows that policymakers have the potential to bring about rapid change to protect children,” said Callie King-Guffey, lead researcher for the scorecard. “We must build on the momentum to protect children from child marriage, corporal punishment, hazardous child labor, and extreme prison sentences.”

The policy changes that improved states’ grades were most frequently in the areas of banning sentencing children to life without parole, raising the minimum age of prosecuting children in the juvenile system, and limiting or prohibiting child marriage. Progress was limited on banning corporal punishment. On child labor, some states moved to roll back child labor protections.

Bills have been introduced to ban or restrict child marriage in Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, South Carolina, and Washington. In New York, legislation has been introduced banning corporal punishment in all school settings. And in Michigan, new legislation bans juvenile life without parole.

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Image credit: Gage Skidmore – Creative Commons