Forbid Them Not: Meet the UN Committee

Forbid Them Not, pp. 9-14

The Noga Hilton International Geneva may have been a five-star hotel, but the carpet in Nora Stoddard’s room was still garishly orange.

Nora is jetlagged. She has graveled to Geneva, after all. As she heads to her meeting with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Farris drops a few notes that are, I assume, supposed to help flesh out Nora’s character. Nora, remember, is the National Commission on Children official who visited Laura Frasier’s Sunday school class back in Virginia. Unfortunately, Farris’s asides do more to confuse Nora’s character than to clarify it.

Two taxis were waiting in line—a newer Mercedes and a ten-year-old full-size American-made Chevrolet. Nora got the Chevy, which was first in line.

Why? Why did Nora take the Chevy? I need to know! Was it because it was American-made? Did she feel the Mercedes was too ostentatious? Or did she literally just get in the first one in line? In which case, what did knowing that the other car was a Mercedes add to this story?

Why did you pick the Chevy, Nora??

Next, the good-old travel narratives that we’ve all missed:

After a series of lefts and rights through back streets, the taxi headed along Lake Geneva–Lac Leman, in French—for a few blocks. The top of Mont Blac was obscured in the distance by some high thin clouds, but the view was spectacular nonetheless.

But Nora is not in Geneva to sight-see. The taxi delivers her to an eight-story building with the UN symbol in the atrium lobby.

Oh and by the way—Farris has now mentioned that Nora does not speak French two times in as many places—the first time when the taxi driver tried to speak to her, and the second time when the security guard addressed her. We got it, Farris! She doesn’t speak French.

Nora heads to the conference room that is her destination, but first she pauses at a “the open door of the receiving room”:

A display of breakfast pastries and a selection of rich, dark breads, together with three kinds of cheese, were arrayed on a table agains the right wall. Another table with coffee and tea was immediately adjacent. Three women holding china cups and saucers were chatting quietly in what sounded like a Slavic language. They nodded at Nora, but she did not recognize any of them.

She hesitated in the outer doorway for a moment. Finally, she marched ahead into the conference room through a door on the left side of the entry area. She glanced nervously around the large conference table. The view of Lac Leman a few blocks away was beautiful, but a familiar face was what Nora wanted to see more than anything.

WTF was that?

I’m trying to figure out whether Nora is merely nervous about not knowing people, or whether we’re to think she has food issues or body image issues. Why else the description of the food, with no explanation as to why she looks at it but doesn’t take any? And yet—and I checked—there is no previous mention of her weight or even her physical appearance. She has merely been described as “a woman in her early forties.” Maybe we’re only to see her as nervous?

But why is she nervous? Sure, she wants to see a familiar face—don’t we all?—but she’s a seasoned government official. She should know how to network, and be ok being in a room with strangers. Instead, to hear Farris write, you’d think she was scared of something. But what?

Nora recognizes Erzabet Kadar, who holds the chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child—it’s Nora’s first time meeting her—before finally seeing a familiar face. Check out this description:

Kadar moved to the side, revealing the first truly familiar face. The long brown tresses and flawless skin of Jody Easler were as unusual in this room as her light tan, formfitting suit. Nearly everyone else in the room was dressed in black or charcoal. And it seemed that everyone else was at least ten or twenty years older than Norah’s striking fellow American.

Maybe it’s due to living in a diverse area, but I read the above and assumed for several chapters that Jody was African American. She’s not. She’s later identified as a brunette. But this disjuncture between Jody and those others involved in children’s rights comes up repeatedly throughout this book. Jody is young, sexy, gorgeous, and at least slightly hip. Everyone else is old and stodgy. Jody stands out. And did I mention that she’s sexy?

Nora herself had been involved in the movement, albeit on the state and national level, for a lot longer than Dr. Easler. But appointments to the U.S. delegation to the UN in Geneva demanded a level of electoral participation that had never been Nora’s forte. She had been a faithful in children’s rights politics for nearly two decades, but she was not a person to be noticed by elected officials.

Nora was grateful to have day-to-day charge of the U.S. agency that had been created to enforce the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Even though she ultimately reported to this younger, less experienced woman, Norah could question neither the competence nor commitment of this Ph.D. who looked more like a local news anchor than an expert on the sociology of children’s rights.

I think it’s time for some fact checking. There is a UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. According to the United Nations website:

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the body of 18 Independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State parties.

More on that in a moment—first, Jody introduces Nora to Erzabet Kadar as “our director of the National Commission on Children.” Nora, in other words, heads that agency. When Jody states that Nora holds an “important national position,” Erzabet Kadar cuts in to note that it is truly an “international” position. Jody responds with a smile:

Jody smiled broadly and perfectly, revealing the skilled work of an orthodontist from Minneapolis. “Of course, international. Our movement toward ratification of the Convention has lived with frustration so long that even our terminology began to adopt nuances of hopelessness. We have known for some time that the treaty was our only hope for true advancement of children’s rights, but we…” She shook her head as if to wipe away the cobwebs of a bad memory. “But those days are gone now. We are here not just to consult but as full partners, finally.”

This is not how children’s rights advocates talk about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—as though it is some holy grail that, if signed, would suddenly make everything perfect and wonderful.

At this, the committee is seated.

Their skin colors covered the entire range of humanity, but nearly all those at the table had gray hair, with the notable exception of the lead American.

I told you this would keep coming up. I find it odd, too, given that this is the current picture of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child:

I don’t see all that much gray. I also don’t see a room full of black and charcoal suits.

Of course, this book was published in 2005. I found a list of the members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for that year and looked up each member. I was able to find dates of birth for about two-thirds of them. The majority of these individuals were in their 50s and early 60s in 2005. The oldest was 71; the youngest was 35.

Jody would definitely have been one of the youngest members of the committee, but she wouldn’t be as out of place as Michael seems to suggest she would have. Still, out of place is how she wants her—and there are reasons for this that become relevant to the plot later on.

But now, let’s move on to the committee’s session.

Erzabet Kadar leaned forward in her chair. She sat, as always, in the center of the table, with her back to the wall. She apparently isn’t want people staring out the windows at the view when they should be listening to her.

She looked around the room solemnly, but Kadar said nothing as she stared down each person in turn, fixing an unblinking gaze until the other person averted his or her eyes.

Who is she, the antichrist?? She’s from Hungary—is that enough Eastern European to make her a potential antichrist candidate? Because I’m definitely getting vibes. Oh and later, when she speaks, her voice and “passion” give Nora a wowed tingling in her stomach. So. More evidence.

“My friends, this is a momentous morning in the history of our movement. For nearly thirty years we have awaited this day. The long spell of frustration, not just for our American friends but for all of us, has finally come to an end.”

Here’s the problem with this: government agencies in the U.S. haven’t been waiting around for the Senate to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child already. The same is true of the disability rights—the U.S. has not signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but the U.S. has already implemented the principles contained within it nonetheless.

In line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the U.S. does not have child soldiers; fights child trafficking; removes children from abusive or neglectful parents; provides a system of public education; respects’ parents right to direct their children’s religious education; encourages the production of children’s books; protects children from pornographic materials; and so forth.

Our failure to sign the Convention is primarily a problem in the message it sends abroad, and in forfeiting the positive message we could be sending to children about our national respect for them and their rights. The ratification of the Convention would not in any wise mean a full-fledged overturning of current U.S. law and practices vis a vis children.

And yet, from Farris we get this:

“We are gathered here to plan the next stage of our international strategy for the well-being of children. The ratification of the Convention by the United States has brought us to the threshold of a new world of possibilities—a world where children can be liberated from the superstitions and prejudices that have enslaved and abused both their bodies and minds. We must make decisions this morning that will have worldwide implications for decades to come. We need no longer believe that our vision should be achieved gradually. The day for bold action is upon us.”

This. Is. Not. How. This. Works.

I’m going to try to spend some time reading about how the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child functions between now and next week. My current understanding is that the Committee receives reports from states (i.e. countries) that have signed the treaty and makes recommendations, but does not act to directly enforce their recommendations or set individual state policy.

Farris, in contrast, believes that if the U.S. signs the UN Commission on the Rights of the Child, this UN Committee, and not American officials, will be in the driver’s seat in our national children’s policy.

Tune in next week to hear the UN Committee’s devious plans to control and subvert U.S. domestic policy. I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat!

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