UNITED NATIONS — The Obama administration is reviving efforts to have the United States sign onto a global children's rights treaty ratified by every U.N. member except the U.S. and Somalia, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Monday.
Administration officials are actively discussing "when and how it might be possible to join," Rice, a Cabinet-level official, said while visiting a school in Harlem and fielding a teenager's specific question about the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
She did not provide a specific timetable for the decision and has said previously only that the administration would conduct a legal review of the treaty.
But during her a brief question-and-answer session with 120 junior high school students at Harlem Children's Zone, a nonprofit educational facility, Rice acknowledged that the effort was long overdue given that "the only two countries" that are not part of the treaty are the United States and the lawless Horn of Africa nation.
"It's a long story," she said of the nearly 20-year-old treaty that has become a point of contention in the United States, not to mention Somalia.
The treaty says children have basic rights to education, health care and protection from abuse. Its supporters have used it to improve child protection laws for schools and courts in places like Lebanon, South Korea, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
Democrats from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to California Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of a Senate subcommittee on human rights, have advocated pushing for Senate ratification of the treaty, which requires two-thirds approval in the 100-seat chamber.
But opponents in the U.S. have long argued that it could open the door to outside interference from government and U.N. officials in what they say are parents' rights to raise a child as they see fit. Republicans in Congress also have put forward a measure that has gained limited support but is aimed at blocking such a treaty.
Since the treaty took effect in 1990, it has been ratified by 193 nations. The Clinton administration signed it in 1995 but never submitted the treaty for Senate approval, bowing to opposition from some senators.