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United Nations' Children's Pact Seeks To Guarantee the Right to an Education

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After nearly 10 years of debate, the United Nations General Assembly last week adopted a unique international pact that seeks to guarantee specific rights for children, including the right to an education.

Known as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the document--which must be ratified by 20 countries to become effective--sets standards on various issues that affect children, including education, adoption, parental care, health, child labor, and abuse and neglect.

Each country that ratifies the convention will be responsible for establishing laws to uphold the rights outlined in the 54-article pact.

Although no punitive measures would be taken against countries that violate the treaty, the organization will create an oversight body that will monitor each country's progress in upholding the pact's standards.

According to Alejandro J. Palacios, director of Congressional relations for unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, the document will be "a valuable tool" for all those who strive for the health, protection, and development of children.

He noted that the United States already has laws that guarantee rights to children, but that ratification of the pact will strengthen those laws.

Many children's rights groups in this country--such as care, the Salvation Army, and Save The Children--have organized a coalition,8known as Interaction, that will lobby the Congress to ratify the pact.

The pact offers children under 18 the right to a free and compulsory primary education, and equal access to secondary and higher education.

It also seeks to "ensure that school discipline reflects the child's human dignity."

The convention urges that education be directed toward developing a child's personality and talents, preparing the child for active life as an adult, fostering respect for basic human rights, and developing respect for the child's own cultural and national values and those of others.

It also establishes the minimum age for military service at 15. Several countries contended that the age limit should be have been 18 years, but the United States opposed them, arguing that such a change would have been at odds with the Geneva Convention.--lj

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