In a crucial vote marking the culmination of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fall session, the body has issued a resounding “no” to parental rights—more evidence of its entrenched politicization. The session of the UN’s main human rights body included deliberations on over 35 resolutions negotiated by its 47 Member States. Unfortunately, one of the most contentious of these involved the topic of the rights of children and climate change. The text was subject to a month of negotiations, and ultimately put forward for adoption without due regard for the rights of parents and legal guardians.
Monitored by ADF International’s legal team in Geneva, negotiations were led by a “core group” consisting of the European Union and Latin American countries. At the time of adoption, Uruguay stated that the incorporation of parental rights language, added by the Russian Federation, would “bring imbalance to the resolution and would also go against the spirit of the resolution”. The assertion that parents knock children’s rights out of “balance” directly contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the international community’s most ratified treaty, which references parents, and their rights, repeatedly. Notably, the Russian addition was sourced word for word from the Convention.
Furthermore, the European Union made clear that, “qualifying the participation of children in decision-making with parental guidance would … go against the relevant articles of CRC”. While an anti-parent ideological stance is not unexpected from ‘progressive’ countries that promote a radical conception of children’s autonomy, it is shocking that all members of the EU could accept a blatant renunciation of the rights of parents, in particular Hungary and Poland.
The deeply misleading premise put forth by Member States espousing an anti-parental rights view is that the rights of parents inherently impinge upon those of children. International law, however, does not support that view, and the reality of children’s needs proves otherwise. Parental rights are a prerequisite for the flourishing of children. Without due regard for parents, who have both the right and responsibility to protect, direct, and guide their children, the latter inevitably suffer.
In terming the anti-parent view, the “child’s rights-based approach,” as articulated by the Bahamas, governments commit a grave disservice to children. Mexico, for example, stated that, language on parental rights “would bring setbacks in the enjoyment of the rights of the child”. Ukraine agreed, noting that, parental rights “undermine the recognition of the child as a right-holder and an active member of society”. Fiji conceded that parental rights, when viewed in isolation, “may appear to be harmless,” but that in the context of a child’s rights resolution they “undermine the purpose of the entire resolution”.
Juxtaposing children’s right to participate in matters pertinent to them—a right that should, and is, heavily qualified in international law in accordance with the child’s capacity—is in no way threatened by acknowledging and ensuring the corresponding rights of parents, as was argued. Australia stated that, “by seeking to introduce the need for guidance from parents and legal guardians in children’s participation” parental rights references would obstruct a child’s ability to participate in decision-making processes. One need not be a scholar of international law to grasp the ideological machinations at play. The needs of children are manifold, and warrant our utmost protection, but no “decision-making” prerogative of the child can obviate the sacred role of parents. Ask any mom and dad around the dinner table and they would agree. The United Nations is out of touch with the fundamental reality of parent-child dynamics.
The Member States that voted against parents also used the excuse that parents fall short of the proper execution of their role as an excuse to deny the existence of parental rights as a whole. The failure to parent with the best interest of the child at heart is a tragedy, wounding children and society at large. But our human inability to always obtain the ideal must not be allowed to eclipse that for which we strive—a world in which children grow up in loving homes supported by parents that understand their role. It is for, and not against, this ideal that the UN should be fighting.
Tasked with introducing the Convention language on parental rights, Russia ominously noted that governments voting against parents “deliberately shirk their international responsibilities to provide for the rights of the child”. This is exactly the sad state of affairs in which the UN finds itself today with governments directly contravening their obligations to promote revisionist views of international law mired in extremist ideology. The fact that parental language taken directly from treaty law is so heavily disputed is but one example of the Council’s self-defeating polarization. If countries of the EU, for instance, are willing to oppose even the most innocuous treaty-based language, one must question the underlying agenda.
The Human Rights Council determination, with the parental rights references rejected by 27 of its 47 members, in addition to 6 abstentions, may give the impression that most countries around the world no longer value parental rights. But the result actually points more to the status of the Council, rather than that of parental rights. First, the Council is home to only a small subsection of the UN’s 193 countries, so no vote is definitively representative. Second, votes are heavily influenced by other political considerations, leaving countries feeling pressured to preserve the illusion of consensus and reject amendments even if they correspond with their national priorities.