Abuse in Youth Sports: Depriving Basic Human Rights?

The United States needs to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

November 20, 2021

Today, is World Children’s Day. World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated on the 20th of November each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

November 20th is an important date as it is the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It is also the date in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

As we wind down a long and challenging year of sports for young people around the globe and here in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the challenges every coach, team and league in our nation has faced. Sports typically played in the summer are sliding into the fall, fall sports spill into the spring, setting up fertile ground for arguments over venues, to mask or not to mask, cancel games or tournaments, quarantine entire teams, parents or no parents in the stands? The list of problems is utterly exhaustive and arduous for parents and caregivers.

During the past twenty-one months millions of our young children have been sidelined with their right to play with other kids being snapped away from them by this cruel virus, causing a decline in physical fitness and a long tsunami of troubling emotional and psychological hurdles for our children. Sadly, many children have given up on sports all together citing lack of money and/or fun and abuse as top reasons.

Those of us advocating, consulting and working (round the clock at times) to troubleshoot and prevent children from being abused physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually have been overwhelmed, especially with reports of coaches raping young boys and girls. The escalation in abuse over the past 18 months is deeply troubling. I suspect the numbers may be higher now because of the stress many are under. Thankfully, the awareness and ability to report is much greater than it was four decades ago when I first began my work in child rights and protection. There remain tough questions.

What can we as a society do?

First, laws against child abuse should be strengthened in every state to protect against child abuse, not only at home but on all venues, fields, courts, diamonds, pools and rinks of America. This is an uphill battle. There is, however, a simple solution as we wait for child protection laws to be passed — a solution that pulls together all the “bill of rights” the myriad nonprofit organizations and champions of youth athletes in our country have pitched for decades. It is the tried and true and working. It is called the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

196 countries have ratified the Convention, making it the most widely-ratified human rights convention in history. I encourage the United States, as the only holdout, to join the global movement and attain the objective of universal ratification.

The Convention spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere should enjoy, among them the right to survival, to develop to the fullest, and to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation. While its most obvious application is in combating such abhorrent practices as the ‘recruitment’ of child soldiers and the sexual slavery of teenage girls, and in protecting the rights of the thousands of children fleeing abuse and seeking asylum in other countries, the Convention also provides, in the words of a recent Unicef report, “the overarching framework that can guide those who provide and supervise sport for children,” with application to such abusive practices as forcing children to train excessively and to engage in unhealthy and illegal behavior, such as the use of performance-enhancing drugs (Articles 3, 6, 19 and 24), ensuring that a child’s right to an education is not overshadowed by considerations concerning a sporting career (Articles 3 and 28), and the economic exploitation of child athletes (Article 32).

I first wrote about the CRC in my book Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (Harper Collins) in 2006. The time is long overdue to ratify. I am hopeful that our current UN Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who was nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the Senate on February 23, 2021, is beating the drum on this matter as loudly as I have been for far too long.

ARTICLES OF INTEREST on Child Rights and Abuse Prevention by Brooke de Lench

U.S. Failure to Ratify UN Convention on Rights of the Child Is Embarrassing and Unacceptable (MomsTeam.com) April 23, 2017

How to Improve Youth Sports Safety: Focus On Protecting the Whole Child (MomsTeam.com) June 10, 2016

U.S. Failure To Ratify UN Convention on Rights of the Child Is Embarrassing and Unacceptable Huffington Post (October 10, 2015)

UNICEF UK Names MomsTEAM Institute Pioneer Organization for U.S. Implementation of Int’l Safeguards for Children In Sport (MomsTeam.com) January 13, 2015

Protect Children in Youth Sports (Baltimore Sun) March 4, 2014

More Than International, Federal and State Laws Needed To Keep Kids Safe Playing Sports (MomsTeam.com) June 14, 2014

Article Exposes Flaws in Way American Youth Sports System Develops Talent (MomsTeam.com) June 4, 2012

Are Parents Who Allow Young Athletes To Play Contact or Collision Sports Guilty of Child Abuse? (MomsTeam.com) MomsTeam.com October 5, 2011

RESOURCES:

INTERNATIONAL SAFEGUARDS FOR CHILDREN IN SPORT (Smart Teams.org)

Brooke de Lench is a child athlete safeguards and rights activist/advocate, a risk reduction in sports and legal consultant. Brooke is a founding member of the UN International Safeguards of Children in Sports coalition. Founding Executive Director of MomsTeam Institute of Youth Sports Safety, Inc., Producer of the documentary, “The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer” (PBS). Director of Smart Teams Play Safe, Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, and author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins). She can be reached by email delench@MomsTeam.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @BrookedeLench @MomsTeam @SmartTeams

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Brooke de Lench

Brooke de Lench

Child Athlete Safeguards & Rights Pioneer, Author, Film Producer (PBS)