The Dangers of Children’s Rights’ Discourse in the Political Arena: The Issue of Religious Male Circumcision as a Test Case
Cardozo Journal of Law and Gender Vol. 21:347, 2015
46 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2015
Date Written: July 5, 2015
The ever increasing use of children’s rights discourse in national, regional and international political institutions can perhaps be seen as a sign of the success of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”), and of the internalization of the concept that children are independent rights holders, the ideological basis of the doctrine of children’s rights. Nevertheless, there is evidence that some advocates of children’s rights in the political arena are taking an over-simplistic, uni-dimensional approach to children’s rights which results in misrepresentation of the true interests of children. This risk is well illustrated by the recent resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (“PACE”) resolution entitled “Children’s Right to Physical Integrity,” which inter alia expressed concern about the violation of the right to the physical integrity of young boys circumcised for religious reasons and made recommendations that States should consider placing restrictions on this practice.
This article uses the PACE resolution as a platform for examining the pitfalls inherent within the doctrine of children’s rights, specifically as given effect to by the CRC, that makes it susceptible to misuse in the political arena. The recent 25th anniversary of the signing of the CRC is a timely occasion for a discussion of some of its deficiencies that include definitional problems, selectivity and the indeterminacy of the best interests standard. In addition, the paper explains how these pitfalls were exacerbated by serious flaws in the PACE’s decision-making mechanism and suggests changes which might be made at the institutional level to reduce the risks involved in children’s rights discourse in the political arena.
Whilst the article does in fact deconstruct the claims that religious male circumcision violates children’s rights, the implications of the analysis are far wider than the ritual circumcision debate. This analysis is particularly pertinent to the children’s rights implications of all types of decisions made by parents in relation to the rearing of their children, which do not conform to the norms prevalent in Western society. More broadly, the analysis demonstrates the need to rethink how the complex multi-layered doctrine of children’s rights can be refined in such as way that it can practicably be used to inform decision-making in the political arena. In addition, many of the insights in relation to the problems associated with children’s rights discourse in the political arena are also of relevance in relation to human rights discourse in general.
It is to be hoped that increased understanding of the pitfalls inherent in the CRC will lead to greater caution in the use of children’s rights discourse in the political arena, inter alia by the introduction of appropriate safeguards, and provide an impetus for the search for solutions.
Keywords: children's rights, ritual male circumcision, CRC, best interests
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