Thursday, February 26, 2009

Child Execution

The execution of children, any government’s imposition of the death penalty on those younger than 18 years, was not fully eradicated in the U.S. until 2005. The U.S. Supreme Court case finally banning the practice, Roper v. Simmons, determined that crimes committed from a qualitatively different level of maturity could not receive such final and irreversible punishments. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia criticized the ruling based on an argument of national sovereignty. He insisted that the U.S. should be the “sole arbiter of our Nation’s moral standards,” and that the decision was attributable to foreign courts and international influence.

Looking back at Roper v. Simmons, it seems that the sharing of international norms can be a good thing; ending child execution being only one example. The prohibition of child execution is an international norm, and can be found in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). If the U.S. were to finally ratify the CRC, our nation would likely benefit from further areas of exchange and catch up in more areas in relation to the rights of the child.

Like other child rights violations, the practice of child execution is still occurring internationally. If the U.S. were to ratify the treaty, it may have a stronger foundation to fight this practice elsewhere.

Currently there are five countries that still allow child executions: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and Iran. Iran has stood far in the lead. Last year, there were 8 child executions, and another just last month. On Wednesday, February 18, 2009, Rahim Ahmadi, who was 15 at the time his crime was committed, was executed, apparently for killing a man in self-defense.

    "the day before the incident happened, Reza and two of his friends confronted me. They beat me and ran away and of course, I hit them back. The next day, the three of them came after me again. I was standing at my front door, when they attacked me. I managed to grab a knife away from one of them. In self-defense, I stabbed Reza. I had not planned to kill anyone and if I had not hit Reza, they would have hit me". – Rahim (Stop Child Executions News and Updates)

In order to read more about Rahim's story go to

Given this human right; given that acts of youth should not be judged at the same level of maturity and decision making as adults, it is disappointing that so many others like Rahim will face the same consequences in Iran and elsewhere.

Despite Rahim’s story, Iran has made mild progress in the direction of abolishing child executions. Unlike the U.S., Iran has ratified the CRC. There has subsequently been pressure from the international community to end the practice. In Iran’s attempted to follow through with its treaty obligations, Iranian leaders have seriously considered a ban, although it is not clear that it will cover all crimes. Based on recommendations from the UN, they have also established special courts for children.

There is still a long way to go for Iran, and when it comes to the rights of the child, almost every other country has room for substantial progress. All nations have room to grow in a vast number of areas in relation to the rights of the child. The voices of children are often ones that are left unheard. Through international cooperation, mutual exchange, and shared checks and balances, every nation can put its values in better line with the needs of the world’s children.


Lynette Go and Brad Olson, Northwestern University, Rights for Our Future

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