The U.S. does a surprisingly poor job of protecting its children. Over a quarter million children have been married in the U.S. in the last two decades, even though we know that child marriage has deeply harmful consequences. Additionally, 160,000 children experience physical punishment in U.S. schools each year. Thousands of children have been condemned to die in prison through life without parole sentences. And children are exposed to dangerous conditions while working in agriculture, sometimes with deadly consequences.
The U.S. is the only country in the world that has failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. The treaty addresses children’s rights to education, health, protection from violence and exploitation, and a broad array of other rights. Ratification would require the U.S. to strengthen its protection of children. But in the U.S., many of these rights are left up to individual states, not the federal government.
Last year, Human Rights Watch published a scorecard that measured U.S. state compliance with key children’s rights established in international law. We looked at child marriage, corporal punishment, child labor, and juvenile justice because these key measures can affect a child for the rest of their lives.
Not a single U.S. state got an A or B when assessed on these issues. Only four states—New Jersey, Ohio, Iowa, and Minnesota—managed a C grade. Every other state got a D or F.