The Scorecard on Children’s Rights in the US, Daily Brief 7 September, 2023

Daily Brief, 7 September, 2023


Of the 50 states in the US, how many do you think meet international children’s rights standards?


Not one US state received an “A grade” in our new scorecard, published today. No state even managed to get a “B.” Seven got a “C,” 27 a “D,” and 16 an “F.”

This all may come as a shock to those who consider the US a relatively rich country, where children have it pretty good. It’s possible some are looking no further than their own comfortable neighborhood or mistaking some TV shows for reality.

Or maybe some folks think the standards are too high? So, they approve of child marriage? (still legal in 41 US states). They are for school officials being able to physically assault kids? (called “corporal punishment, it’s legal in 47 states)

They would want to see kids sentenced to life in prison without parole in some circumstances? (legal in 22 states). They’re happy with children doing dangerous work in agriculture? (legal in all 50 states)

I bet not.

I’m sure most readers here – and most Americans, as well – would not approve of these things. I don’t see many folks out there supporting child abuse, do you?

A lot of the topics I discuss in this newsletter are complicated. This one is not.

Beating kids, cutting their childhoods short through early marriage, having them work in hazardous jobs - it’s simply wrong, and no one has to tell you this. You know it. I know it. Most every adult knows it. Children deserve our protection.

The good news is, we are seeing some progress in the US since I wrote in this newsletter about last year’s scorecard. Four states have shed their “F” grade, three moved up to a “C,” and several significantly improved their rankings. Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, and West Virginia showed improvement over the last year.

And while it’s disturbingly true, as I described more recently, that some states have actually moved to roll back child labor protections, we have been pleased to see positive policy changes in several states in other areas: banning life without parole for kids, for example, and prohibiting child marriage.

What’s more, policymakers in several states have introduced new legislation that could lead to further improvements. There are currently bills to ban or restrict child marriage in Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, South Carolina, and Washington. There’s also a promising bill banning corporal punishment in schools in New York.

What we are witnessing here is people’s widely shared morality forcing the law to catch up with us. (Thanks to active public pressure, of course.)  

Because we all know that how we treat our kids is a moral imperative. It says everything about how we see ourselves, about the society we want to live in, and – at the risk of getting a bit Whitney Houston about it – what kind of future we want to help create.