Dear Directors Kanem, Russell, and Andersen,
We are writing to urge you to dissolve the barrier between family planning policies and children’s rights policies. If instruments like the Children’s Rights Convention are meant to be effective they must be applied to the majority of children, those who will live in the future.
Growth-biased policies both fail to take into account the needs of current children and harm future children, whose rights and well-being are increasingly under threat due to the worsening climate crisis, resource depletion, rising inequality, unemployment, and political instability. In fact, the best interpretation of the Children’s Convention (“CRC”) considers the rights of future children just as much as the rights of children who exist today, which makes the Convention the centerpiece standard for family planning.
The key to achieving just and sustainable family planning policies involves balancing procreative autonomy with procreative obligations, such that the rights of intending parents to have children are balanced with the rights and well-being of potential children. We need new norms that place children’s rights at the center of every family planning decision, affirming the right of every child to enter a family and community that is prepared to provide for her physical and cognitive development, education, and health. Such norms, in turn, allow true adult autonomy or relative self-determination in the long run.
It’s not about population/numbers. We either bring kids into select and safe conditions, or we are being fundamentally unjust.
We Have to Admit That Failure to Apply the Convention in Family Planning Hurt Women and Children
Collectively, we have yet to reckon with birth rates and family size as drivers of the current crises in human and planetary health. While maternal and child welfare has improved worldwide, the reality is that outcomes are poor: costing the lives of nearly 300,000 women and over 5 million infants and children each year. Recent studies, of course, do not reflect the horrific impacts the climate crisis will have on those outcomes.
These outcomes could have been avoided had family planning policies oriented around the objective needs of future children, like those specified in the Convention, rather than around the the oft-cited “rights” of parents to have children–including patriarchy, the preservation of oligarchic family structures, and the needs of population growth-based economies. The reorientation could have easily been implemented by prioritizing child equity in family planning, and using progressive taxation on the wealthiest to fund family planning incentives and entitlements. That change would have also moved the world towards more optimal and sustainable population levels, and allowed us to meet sustainable development goals and climate mitigation targets.
Change begins with our admission that if children deserve certain things, then future children do as well. From this admission follows changing the policies that surround family planning and permissible birth/child development conditions, and moving from a parent-centric model based on autonomy (which ignores future child welfare) to a future child-centric model based on equity.
Failure to do this is encourage men to use their wealth and positions of power to push women to have more children to be used as consumers, workers, and taxpayers. This degrades the capacity for participation each person would have in a functional democracy, and exacerbates the climate crisis. They want us to believe that one’s birth entry position – rich versus poor, in nurturing or horrific conditions – is a matter of fortune, or an act of god. Instead it is the absence of just family planning policies and the UNFPA’s failure to apply the Convention prospectively exacerbates this.
There Is a Clear Policy Pathway for Implementing Child-Centric Family Planning Policies to Comply with the Convention
To develop the political will and the policy framework to advance these changes, we need a US federal entity to oversee children’s issues and advocate for children’s rights across all levels of government. Additionally, federal adoption of other key CRC principles – child impact statements and the best interests of the child standard for all budget and policy decisions – will advance children’s interests. Within this structure, the very initial steps towards dissolving the barrier between family planning and children’s rights will involve changing the discourse around family planning and the Convention in five specific ways:
First, we can adopt family planning policy reporting as part of ESG disclosure frameworks. This should include past, present, and anticipated policies. The inclusion as part of the framework would begin to create a culture among institutions – public and private – of factoring in family planning as the key driver or open multiplier of all crucial ESG impacts.
Second, we can urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to interpret Article 16 of the UDHR and relevant provisions of the international bill of human rights as requiring just and sustainable family planning that can be practiced by all generations in perpetuity. This would require that reproductive rights be balanced with the obligations of intending parents towards potential children – current and future, with the understanding that future generations have the same human rights we do.
Third, the UN Secretary General, and heads of the UNFPA, UNICEF and UNEP, can provide informal statements that support the reading of Article 16 above, and that treat the Convention as the centerpiece of family planning policies, capable of being implemented with the redistribution, incentive, and entitlement policies discussed above. Informal statements lay the groundwork for changes at the level of population conventions, and eventually binding treaty interpretations.
Fourth, we should reorient more traditional reproductive rights frameworks that focus on preventing pregnancy around state obligations to ensure conditions that produce self-determining citizens rather than economic inputs in a system of unsustainable growth. That state interest precedes and enables individual rights, creating the context in which they occur, but is currently absent from the discourse. Again, the focus here involves replacing procreative autonomy, which is a contradiction in terms, with procreative justice/equity, which in turn allows true adult autonomy or relative self-determination in the long run. While many might not readily accept that well-cared for kids make better citizens, that argument is based on a conceptual error. The people making it have a conception of good government that does not account for how the people in that system actually relate, e.g. how vastly disparate opportunities in life – which start at brith – carry over to disparate input in the political system.
Fifth, we can begin to support true equity in birth and childhood development, honoring the ideal of equal opportunities in life, by reforming the child tax credit system to promote parental readiness, a leveling of the playing field for all children, and a universal ethic of sustainable families. As with the other reforms, this reform goes “upstream” to protect children by improving the conditions in which they are born and raised through redistribution of wealth as family planning incentives/entitlements, which are especially needed to offset – or help repair – the harm we have caused future generations.
The best interpretation of the CRC applies it to future, and not just extant, children.
The Team at Fair Start Movement