Robert Fathman's letter of September 28, 2001 to Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mary Robinson
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Re: Recommendations from the Sept. 28, 2001 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child Conference in Geneva

Dear Ms. Robinson and staff:

Suggestions were requested in reaction to the document release at last month's conference in Geneva on the Rights of the Child. The Convention is a wonderful document, which I wholeheartedly endorse, and I hope my country, the U.S., soon joins the rest of the world in ratifying this document, and in coming into compliance with the standards espoused by the Convention.

Just one small part, the section in blue italics, copied here, concerns me:

3) The Committee considers that violence against children is unacceptable under any circumstances, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the actions to stop violence against children need to take adequate account of different social and cultural contexts and should be devised by fully engaged local actors. National strategies should take fully into account the local context and actors.
This loophole, referencing local socio-cultural contexts, opens the door for a wide range of abuse of children. In this country, for example, almost 400,000 children are subjected to corporal punishment in schools each year in the 27 states where this is still legal. As I advocate an end to that practice, I hear many times that it is part of the Southern [U.S.] culture, or that it is a part of the fundamentalist, Baptist religion prevalent in that area, or that Americans of African heritage want to retain this for their children as part of that culture.

Female genital mutilation could be defended on the same basis, as could the brutal caning of juvenile delinquents in Singapore.

Enough examples, I think you see my point. In protecting children we must believe in certain absolutes, and we must not dilute the impact of those absolutes with fuzzy language, open to interpretation. I believe those two sentences are not needed and should be deleted.

I hope you will convey my concerns to your staff. I wish you well in your very important work for our children, our society.


Robert Fathman, Ph.D.,
President, National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools,
and, Co-Chair, EPOCH-USA
Dublin, Ohio, USA

Jordan Riak's personal communication to Bob Fathman about his letter to the U.N.

Glad you made those points. I have no patience with cultural relativism invoked as an all-purpose alibi for bad behavior. Cannibalism, after all, is cultural. Does that make it OK? I suppose, according to the prevailing tenets of political correctness, it does. Except if you're the one being eaten.

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