Media coverage of the on-going–and worsening– migrant crisis includes the faces of children. Many of these images are now infamous, and have presented the migrant crisis as the harrowing emergency it is.
Never one to miss a teachable [preachable?] moment, I thought this might be a good opportunity for Cabbage and Caviar to revisit the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
The UNCRC is among the most widely-subscribed to international documents on the international landscape. If the number of State Parties are any indicator of importance than the UNCRC is very important: the Convention weighs in with a whopping 196 State Parties (the UN official website cites that it currently has 193 Member States— the UNCRC seems to be doing pretty well).
Youth and child advocate that I am, I must start with the addendum that all of the UNCRC’s 54 articles are important. Most obviously applicable to migrant crisis, however, is Article 22, which addresses the rights of child migrants and refugees. Back to teachable moments and my love of snark, the following is a cynic’s annotation of the UNCRC’s twenty-second article:
Article 22 [being 22nd of 54 articles means it’s not the most important article, but you’re still reading and it’s not the end of the Convention, so it’s also not the least important]
1. States Parties [You. Yes, you, the 196 that signed it] shall [we’re serious– you’re gonna do whatever follows this operative verb] take appropriate measures [loophole here: we’re not quite sure what “appropriate measures” means] to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law [wait, or? In the words of our favourite taco shell commercial: “Porque no los dos?] and procedures shall [the super-serious, strong operative verb again, it’s business time!], whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person [yeesh– given the rise in child marriages recently, we sure hope it’s an appropriate ‘other’ person and not just some adult ferrying a kid across a border for marriage], receive appropriate […you get it by now] protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties [gentle reminder that the world of international law is pretty robust: we kindly request that you try and adhere to all your obligations under international law. No cherry-picking!].
2. [This part comes second, our legal way of telling you that it’s not as important as the stuff above] For this purpose, States Parties shall [again with that strong operative verb– we mean business!] provide, as they consider appropriate [that loophole again…], co-operation in any efforts by the United Nations and other competent intergovernmental organisations or nongovernmental organisations co-operating with the United Nations [we’re not going to tell you have to co-operate because what fun would that be? But you should probably consider it] to protect and assist such a child and to trace the parents or other members of the family of any refugee child in order to obtain information necessary for reunification with his or her family . In cases where no parents or other members of the family can be found, the child shall be accorded the same protection as any other child permanently or temporarily deprived of his or her family environment for any reason [hmmm… is the implication here that said refugee/migrant child be afforded the same rights as one of your own country’s children deprived of their family environment?], as set forth in the present Convention [which, again, we’ve lovingly filled with loopholes because we really don’t want you to feel like we’re telling you to do anything, it’s just a gentle suggestion that maybe you consider not being a that guy].
What does this mean? A great many things: Child migrants are, as UNICEF succinctly put, children first. The moral pitfalls associated with increasing xenophobia and the demonisations of migrants aside, let us at least spare children this terrible treatment. Like many international documents, the UNCRC’s beauty actually lies in its ambiguity. At best, this ambiguity allows for the document to evolve in ways that fit a society’s culture (cultures that will hopefully place increasing value on childhood and children’s rights). At worst, this ambiguity allows for an environment that hollows the principles of the UNCRC due to the political maelstrom that is austerity combined with rising xenophobia (not necessarily unrelated phenomena, I know).
One factor unites us all: we were all once children. It therefore stands to reason that we can extend at least a modicum of empathy to the children and youth caught up in one of the worst human crises of this generation. History will accuse us of many things, but let it not accuse us of abandoning a generation.
What I’m listening to: “The Kids Aren’t Alright” by the Offspring [fully aware that this smacks of the self-righteousness that so many of you will state is unbecoming on me, but it’s (1) appropriate, and (2) they’re not wrong].