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For week ended March 05, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 06Mar00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

LDS Area President Urges Australian Action On UN's 'Children's Rights'
(Conventional behaviour)
Sydney Australia Morning Herald 4Mar00 N6

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA -- Elder Bruce C. Hafen, the Area President for the LDS Church's Australian/New Zealand Area, is urging Australia to withdraw its support of the United Nations' International Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). Hafen argues that the convention goes beyond the traditional concern with the care and protection of children, giving them instead legal and personal autonomy -- sometimes at the expense of their parent's ability to raise them.

The convention has become a tool used in political debate in Australia, used to criticize the government and argue in court cases, where the signed conventions have gained the weight of law. The United States has not signed UNCROC, but in Australia it has been used in a child custody case. In the case one lawyer argued that the international conventions were only 'advisory,' with no impact on Australian law. But the judge rejected this claim, leaving many politicians, who had argued for the convention's approval, scrambling to pass laws to limit the effects of the conventions.

Some international law experts say this is a lot of debate over nothing. ANU international law professor Hilary Charlesworth says UNCROC shouldn't be a source of dispute, "These are heavily negotiated, very general statements of principle that most people would accept," she says.

But Hafen disagrees. A former BYU law professor, Haven wrote a 1996 Harvard International Law Journal article on UNCROC exploring its principal that children should have equal rights with adults, noting that U.S. courts rejected that position 20 years earlier, after which child autonomy advocates took their cause to the UN. He observes that U.S. lawyer Cynthia Price Cohen, who helped develop UNCROC, has proudly proclaimed that the convention gives children a "totally new right" through the convention. This right gives children adult-style civil rights such as "speech, religion, association, assembly and the right to privacy."

As a result, the convention tries to remove age as a criterion of competence in children and challenges parental rights to control access to information for children. Hafen says that he isn't agains having the United Nations. To the contrary, he wants the UN to support child protection. But he isn't in favor of UNCROC as it is drafted.

Hafen argues that Australia should try to change UNCROC, "The international community needs Australia's leadership to revise its earlier ratification, thereby sending a message of caution to UN drafting groups whose novel agendas are often revealed only after ratification." Australia passed the convention without any significant restrictions. Most countries that did pass the convention put restrictions on it, allowing them to interpret it for their own laws. The U.S. abstained from signing, mainly, according to Hafen, over issues of sovereignty.

The Morning Herald notes that other countries are also having trouble with the convention after they signed it. Britain has been criticized for laws that allow parents to control whether or not children are enrolled in sex education classes because the UNCROC committee says parent's shouldn't have the right to exclude children from these courses. And in Sweden the committee objected to a Swedish Supreme Court decision that male circumcision is "not a crime against the child".

But the Morning Herald is skeptical about chances that Australia's government will review the convention. It says that pressures from the International NGO community makie it difficult to give UN conventions proper scrutiny before passage.


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