Any time the issue of child rights is brought up in the United States people get uncomfortable. Parents will push back about parental rights and others will push back about personal freedom from government intervention. But if you boil down the essence of child rights to survival, health, education, and protection – can you really argue against them? In essence, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the platform for how societies can meet children’s basic needs. But it appears that the world just can’t seem to reach that platform.
As highlighted in the excellent report by Uchitel et al in this month’s Pediatrics(10.1542/peds.2019-0487), the CRC underpins many of the issues pediatricians face on a daily basis – poverty, child abuse, access to health care, violence, and early childhood development. Many pediatricians have started to screen for social determinants of health in their practices and partner with community organizations. Through policy statements on the pediatrician’s role in poverty, community pediatrics, racism, child abuse and global health, the American Academy of Pediatrics has positioned itself as a lead organization in advocating for the rights of children in the US and worldwide – without using those words.
Uchitel et al make the case that now is the time to actually use the CRC framework and push for child rights at the practice, society, and policy levels. Everyone should pay particular attention to Table 3 – which gives concrete ways pediatricians can overcome the challenges facing children in our society. I would concur with their conclusion that we should be using a rights framework in all our practices as pediatricians and advocates. We should also, when talking amongst ourselves, begin using ‘rights’ language more explicitly. What wasn’t addressed in their article is how best to message the issue to a broader public. With the divisive politics around immigration, parent and gun rights, and racism, the question of how to frame the broader issue of child rights is vitally important. Fortunately, one of the authors, Dr. Jeff Goldhagen, has worked extensively with the Frameworks Institute in Jacksonville, FL and has developed useful reports on how best to talk about child rights issues. I would encourage everyone who reads this month’s article to also review how best to discuss and create appropriate messaging for these issues publicly. Once we all start speaking with clarity of messaging around child rights, then we will really be able to #PutKids1st.