Children's Rights

Children's Rights

The ACLU Human Rights Program works to ensure that the U.S. government complies with universal human rights principles in addition to the U.S. Constitution. The Program uses human rights strategies to complement existing ACLU advocacy. More

Children are especially vulnerable members of society, and human rights treaties reflect this reality.

The United States has had a critical role in drafting international treaties and language regarding the rights of children; however it continues to allow ongoing abuse against its own children. The United States should uphold all children’s right to conditions that provide them with freedom and digni­ty—and should substantiate its historic commitment to human rights and regain its position as a worldwide leader as a protector of children’s rights by ratify­ing treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

HRP works to promote and protect the rights of children, with particular attention to juvenile justice, equal access to quality education (including the prohibition of corporal punishment) by:

• pushing the United States to ratify human rights treaties;
• incorporating human rights standards in litigation and state and federal legislative advocacy; and
• engaging with the United States before U.N. and regional human rights fora.

Additional Resources

ACLU Suggested List of Issues to U.N. Country Report Task Force on U.S. Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (2012 resource): The ACLU submitted a report to the Human Rights Committee as part of a larger civil society effort to inform the international human rights community about the situation of human rights in the United States.

End Juvenile Life Without Parole (2009 resource): In the United States each year, children as young as 13 are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison without any opportunity for release. Approximately 2,570 children are sentenced to juvenile life without parole or "JLWOP" in the United States. Despite a global consensus that children cannot be held to the same standards of responsibility as adults and recognition that children are entitled to special protection and treatment, the United States allows children to be treated and punished as adults.

From Filthy Boys Prison to New Beginnings: Hill Staffers Walk a Mile in Youthful Offenders' Shoes (2011 blog): A recent site visit to the Oak Hill Youth Center and the New Beginnings Youth Development Center began at the now-closed Oak Hill Youth Center in order to highlight the District of Columbia's previous approach to juvenile justice that relied on punitive measures and secure confinement as a response to juvenile crime. The group then toured the New Beginnings Youth Development Center, D.C.'s new juvenile correctional facility modeled after Missouri's approach to juvenile justice. The Missouri model has given juvenile detention a face-lift, housing residents in dormitory-like settings and creating a culture focused on rehabilitation as well as accountability.

Sentencing Children to Die in Prison (2011 blog): The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing youth who have committed non-homicide offenses to life in prison without some meaningful opportunity for review of that sentence is unconstitutional. Although the ruling does not guarantee that juvenile offenders will eventually be released, it requires that they be provided with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before during their lifetime. The ruling in the case, Graham v. Florida, was an important step in the right direction. It recognized that juvenile offenders are fundamentally different from their adult counterparts, that they have a greater capacity for change, growth and rehabilitation, and that they should not, therefore, be punished with the harshest sentence that can be imposed on adults.

ACLU History: Child Welfare Institutions (2010 resource)

Children's Rights and the Human Rights Program (2010 resource)

20 Years of Neglecting Children's Rights (2009 blog)

20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (2010 resource)

Teach Your Children Well (2009 blog)

Corporal Punishment of Children (2009 resource)

ACLU of Montana Defends Parents’ and Children’s Rights (2009 press release)

Frequently Asked Questions about the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols (2009 PDF)

Expanding Opportunity and Hope for Children in America (2009 blog)

Most Popular

ACLU Sues California Over Public School Fees for Students (2010 blog)

A Violent Education: Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools (2008 resource)

State To Provide Homeless Children With Equal Access To Public Education (2008 press release)

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