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In 1989, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a treaty that calls for various juvenile rights, including protections from abuse, valuing the opinions of juveniles, and equal treatment (United Nations Human Rights 1989). Additionally, the CRC outlined appropriate treatment of juveniles in the justice system, including prohibiting capital punishment and life imprisonment of individuals who offended prior to the age of 18, requiring that confinement of juveniles “be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time” (article 37, para 2), requiring confined juveniles be separated from adults, and providing juveniles with access to legal counsel (United Nations Treaty Collection 2016).

Although the United States initially provided extensive support in drafting several portions of the CRC and signed it in 1995 (Gainborough & Lean 2008), it is currently the only UN country that has failed to ratify the CRC, as Somalia ratified in 2015 (United Nations Human Rights 2016). Failing to ratify limits the power of the United States to intervene in international children’s rights issues (Gainborough & Lean 2008). In 2008, U.S. President Barack Obama criticized the failure to ratify by past presidents stating “it is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia... I will review this and other treaties and ensure that the United States resumes its global leadership in Human Rights” (Deen 2008, para 2). Despite the support of President Obama, the CRC has yet to be voted upon in the Senate, as Republicans would reportedly oppose it (S.C. 2013). Critics have argued that the United States should not ratify because it limits the rights of parents and “prevents nations and peoples from sheltering their own unique cultures” (Middleton 2016, para 15). While it appears that the United States will not ratify in the near future, most U.S. laws and practices are already in compliance with the CRC. Following the Supreme Court rulings in 2005 and 2012 that juveniles could no longer be executed or incarcerated for LWOP, respectively, American policies were no longer in direct contention with the CRC (Korkoya 2015).

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