The United National Working Group which is drafting a new Convention on the Rights of the Child has approved a Preamble to the draft Convention which excludes reference to the child’s rights before birth. This difference from the existing UN document, a Declaration adopted in 1959, which includes in its preamble an acknowledgement of the child’s need for protection before birth.
The Preamble of the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child states: “…Whereas the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth…”
“…Recognizing that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted in 1959, the child due to the needs of his physical and mental development requires particular care and assistance with regard to health, physical, mental, moral and social development and requires legal protection in conditions of freedom, dignity and security…”
The reason for the change appears to relate to the difference between a UN “Declaration” and a “Convention.” A Declaration is comparable to a statement of agreement in principle. It is not legally binding on the countries which sign it. A Convention, however, is legally binding and can only be signed once a country has taken steps to conform with the provisions of the Convention. This frequently requires legislation to bring the laws of a country into line with the various Articles of the Convention.
It is clear, therefore, that had the requirement for legal protection before birth been written into the Draft Convention, no country could have signed it without legislating such legal protection for the unborn child. Such legislation could mean an end to legalized abortion.
In 1959, when the Declaration was adopted, abortion was illegal in most countries in the world. Canada signed the 1959 Declaration, but as it was not legally binding, it did not pose an obstacle to the Criminal Code, revisions to the abortion law in 1969.
Article 3 of the new draft document contains an ambiguous statement which may be an acknowledgement of assumed abortion rights an perhaps infant euthanasia. Paragraph 3 stated: “The States Parties to the present Convention undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his well being, taking into account the rights and duties of the parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him…”
Canada has been represented as an observer at meetings of the Working Group of the UN Commission on Human Rights responsible for the document. The drafting of the future Convention of the Rights of the Child began in 1979 and is now entering its final stages. It is expected that before the end of the decade the draft text of the Convention will be finalized by the Working Group and that it will be approved by the UN General Assembly and thus open for ratification.