Children's Rights World Cafe -- Symposium

I was delighted to participated in a children's rights symposium at Ryerson University in Toronto on June 15-16, 2017. The symposium brought together a dynamic, diverse group of scholars and professionals who focus on children's rights, higher rights education, and related issues. 

The symposium was organized by the Ryerson School of Early Childhood Studies

Visual art representation of some of the dialogue at the symposium

Visual art representation of some of the dialogue at the symposium

Is America Holding Out on Protecting Children's Rights?

by Amy Rothschild

The Atlantic, May 2, 2017

 

Excerpt:

Recently, I asked my 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old students what they thought all children need in order to grow up healthy and strong. They responded readily: Lots and lot of water. Fruits and vegetables. Love. Schools. Homes. Parents. A life. Stuff to play with. A 5-year-old went a step further: “Legos.” A 6-year-old snapped back. “Legos? You don’t need them, but you would want them.”

The list my students generated around our meeting rug is remarkably similar to the list of rights named in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the world’s most widely ratified treaties. The convention enshrines children’s right to an education, to health care, to expression—and, yes, to play. It recognizes families as the fundamental unit of society, and says that families should be provided necessary protection and assistance to fulfill responsibilities to their children. United States delegates played an active role in drafting the convention in the late 1980s. Since then, all United Nations member states have ratified it, with one exception: the United States.

To continue reading, see the full article at The Atlantic.

 

Costa Rica (Day 5 to end): Human Rights, Indigenous Populations, and More

One final post on the Global Perspectives on Children and the Law class trip to Costa Rica. Days 5 onward included many highlights, as we continued to explore various human rights issues affecting children and adolescents. Particular focus was given to migration and education issues. Highlights included:

  • A trip to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where students got a behind-the-scenes look at the Court and its work (and its innovative ideas when it comes to remedies);
  • A visit to Tecnológico de Costa Rica, a university with a wonderful program aimed at increasing access to higher education for indigenous students in Costa Rica (the program, its director, and its students were all amazing; we learned so much and left truly inspired);
  • Fascinating lectures from UPEACE faculty Olivia Sylvester (whose work focuses on cultural rights that arise in the context of food and food procurement among indigenous populations) and Miriam Estrada-Castillo (who wealth of experience provided unique insights into human rights law and the Costa Rican experience);
  • A session with an immigration attorney (who provided critical insights on Costa Rican law and the practice of immigration law); and
  • One final relaxing day exploring beyond San Jose.

We are grateful to all of the individuals and institutions who gave their time to our program, including especially our partners at the University for Peace Centre for Executive Education.

 

Reflections:

I never considered before today how the conventional environmental conservation worldview could have negative human rights implications on a population. Today's lecture demonstrated to me the power of understanding another's perspective, and reminded me of what UPeace first taught us in the introductory lecture on day one -- social innovation is creative. Creativity may manifest in the design considered, but also in the process of reaching the design. Creative process many times will require the humility to consider another perspective, or even to change our own. Fittingly, I read today a quote by Rigoberta Menchu Tum displayed on a wall at UPeace, "This world is not going to change unless we are ready to change ourselves." – Chae Mims (JD candidate, GSU Law).

"Global Perspectives on Children and the Law was both eye-opening and captivating. The program had us fully entrenched in all aspects of the cultural and societal issues affecting the rights and well-being of children. The agenda, including various speakers and field-visits, fully encompassed the entire children's rights framework, from children themselves in their home and school environments, to the largest NGO's working in the region and around the world, to the Costa Rican Government itself. We were able to interact with the issues, learn about the practices and programs in place, and innovate new methods to improve and expand child services. I can't express enough how much the group members added to the educational experience. Everyone was big-hearted, forward-thinking, and committed to leaving behind a world better than they found it. Such a group would not have come together had we not noticed those same characteristics in Professor Todres from the start." -- Diego Zorilla (JD candidate, GSU Law)

"On a personal note, seeing how engaged the students were and how they both challenged and supported each other was truly gratifying. Their commitment to the program and longterm to using their legal training to make the world a better place inspires me both in my teaching and in my own work. It was a privilege being part of this program."  -- Jonathan Todres (program director)

 

Visit to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Visit to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Pura vida.

Pura vida.

Meeting with students at TEC.

Meeting with students at TEC.

Costa Rica (Days 3 & 4): Local, National, and International Responses

Days 3 and 4:  During the past two days, our group had the opportunity to examine children’s rights issues and responses at the local, national, and international level.  At the grassroots level, we spent each morning in a different local community learning about the lives, challenges, and hopes of people in two largely immigrant squatter communities.  We are grateful to the communities and to the two organizations we visited – Boy with a Ball and the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation. The site visits also gave us opportunities to think about both how design thinking would apply in practice and how the law and lawyers might be able to support marginalized communities and help foster positive outcomes for children and their families.

We also met with a lawyer at PANI (the national child welfare agency) and representatives from the International Organization for Migration and UNICEF and learned about the role that national and international agencies play in addressing and securing children’s rights.

“Visiting the two squatter communities and hearing from organizers who work within these communities has helped me to reflect on what true success is, in law school and life. As law students, we are conditioned to focus on our grades, awards, rankings, and titles – as they are what matter in life and what truly define our success. This experience puts the pressures of law school and life in perspective and reminds me to measure my success not by my accomplishments but in the amount of lives I can touch.” – Jobena Hill (JD candidate GSU Law)

“It is important to understand why children and adolescents fall through the cracks. When you understand that, you can do meaningful work.” – Gordon Jonathan Lewis, Country Director, UNICEF Costa Rica

Our heartfelt thanks to the communities and organizations we visited. It is an understatement to say we learned so much. For more information about the communities and organizations and their work, see below.

Boy with a Ball

Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation.

PANI

IOM Regional Office for Central and North America and the Caribbean

UNICEF Costa Rica

 

Visit to PANI, with our PANI sponges (part of a public awareness campaign ... because kids absorb everything)

Visit to PANI, with our PANI sponges (part of a public awareness campaign ... because kids absorb everything)

A view from the edge of one of the communities we visited

A view from the edge of one of the communities we visited

Our group with the UNICEF team

Our group with the UNICEF team

Costa Rica (Day 2): Social innovation, Human Rights, and Migration

Day 2:  We spent today at the University for Peace, a United Nations-mandated university and our partner institution for this program, learning about social innovation and how it can be applied to humanitarian challenges that are the focus of human rights law.  Lindsay Fendt, a journalist who has covered migration issues here in Costa Rica and elsewhere in the region, provided great insights into migration issues here in Costa Rica.  And students applied design thinking to migration issues in the region.  Additional insights today come from Jarvarus Gresham and Albert Einstein:

“[Social innovation and design thinking] have allowed us to take a different approach to handling challenging legal issues. This course has already introduced perspectives that will not only help us approach legal issues differently but will assist in the development of solutions with an eye for innovation and efficiency in systems in which we aspire to work.” – Jarvarus Gresham (JD candidate, GSU Law)

“The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.” – Albert Einstein (full disclosure: he’s not on our program; well, maybe in spirit)

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Defining Social Innovation: “A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions. The value created accrues primarily to society rather than to private individuals.” – From Stanford Business School

Example from the law world: Redesigning Housing Court – From NULawLab and partners.

More information on the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education’s social innovation programs is available here.

Day at UPEACE

Day at UPEACE

Design thinking, Migration, and Human Rights

Design thinking, Migration, and Human Rights

Costa Rica: Day 1 (Coffee Production, etc.)

On Day 1 (the so-called "rest day"):

- A great visit to a coffee plantation with a behind-the-scenes tour. Fascinating to learn about everything from the science and economics of coffee production to migrant labor issues to the different varieties of coffee.  And, of course, some great samples. Thanks to our guide, Jose, and Espíritu Santo Coffee Tour.

- In the afternoon, we had a fantastic walking tour of San Jose (Thanks, Jeff). 

Next up:  Day 2 (Monday) -- Social innovation and children's rights. 

 

Visit to a coffee plantation and a scenic view en route.

Visit to a coffee plantation and a scenic view en route.

Downtown San Jose, by the courts.

Downtown San Jose, by the courts.

Map of Human Rights Litigation against Corporations

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre have partnered with Liberty Asia  to develop a legal case map of all human rights litigation against corporations. This valuable resource is available here and enables readers to search by topic, company, and legislation relied upon.  The project covers a broad range of cases including labor rights violations, human trafficking, climate change and environmental degradation, crimes against humanity, child labor and more.  It’s worth a look for anything interested in these issues or human rights litigation generally.

 

First posted on the Human Rights at Home blog.

 

 

 

The Long Game: Tolerance and Respect for One Another

In 2017, the United States of America turned its back on refugees. History will judge us poorly, but that’s no consolation for the children, women, and men fleeing war zones today, thinking America represents safety and freedom. So while the Statue of Liberty boldly declares, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the U.S. government has abandoned that ideal.  In 2017!  But this essay is not about Pres. Trump’s executive order, or the extraordinary responses by so many lawyers and other citizens who stood up for the rights of refugees and Muslims. It’s about the more deeply-rooted beliefs that allow such an executive order to come to fruition in the first place.

The executive order reflects a particular world view, an understanding of the world built on a tiered othering. Demonizing an entire people based on their country of origin or religion is only possible when we refuse to recognize their humanity.  From the slave trade to World War II portrayals of the enemy to human trafficking narratives, racialized, spatial, gendered, and class-based forms of othering have enabled laws and acts that violate the rights of certain individuals.   

I lived in New York City at the time of 9/11. I vividly remember the horrors of that day and its aftermath. I will never forget the smells, the missing person signs all over my neighborhood in the days that followed, the burnt office paper scattered on my block.  But what I also remember is one of the most extraordinary expressions of humanity: Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others coming together for a candle light vigil in my neighborhood a few days later.  I recall hearing about attacks on Muslims in parts of the country nowhere near the terrorist attacks. And I don’t recall a single such incident in New York City. Because we were neighbors, we saw the humanity in each other. The terrorists were just that. Everyone else in the neighborhood was a neighbor, a New Yorker, an American.

It’s hard to think about the long game when there are so many pressing crises that threaten the rights, and even survival, of millions of people right now. At some point, however, we must develop a meaningful response to these underlying attitudes.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights  asserts that education “shall be directed …to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms…[and] shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.”  Education is critical. And we need to be innovative in our approach; it cannot be limited to formal classroom settings.

Literature and other art forms offer important spaces through which viewers can appreciate and understand the humanity of others.  Explaining his approach to writing children’s books, Walter Dean Myers stated that when he wrote about poor inner-city children, he wanted “to make them human in the eyes of readers and, especially, in their own eyes. I need to make them feel as if they are part of America’s dream, that all the rhetoric is meant for them, and that they are wanted in this country.”

As Walter Dean Myers highlights, othering occurs not just with people in distant lands, but also with marginalized populations in cities and towns across this country.

My father used to say “America is the second best country in the world. There is no number 1, yet.” In other words, greatness is achievable only by acknowledging our own flaws and working to address them. The problem with othering is not only that it results in devaluing the Other, it also fosters characterizations of the Self as virtuous and without fault.

When we turn our back on others, be they refugees or children living in poverty in the United States, we are anything but virtuous.

Action is urgently needed to avoid repeating the awful choices of prior generations that we now condemn. But we also must build a sustainable movement that teaches tolerance and respect for one another, so that we can end the cycle of human rights abuses.

 

Note: The views expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution or organization that I work for or have an affiliation with.

First published on the Human Rights at Home blog.

ICYMI: Movies and Myths about Human Trafficking

Movies and myths about human trafficking

Jonathan Todres, Georgia State University

Hollywood loves a good bad guy.

From ruthless mobsters to drug kingpins to serial killers, evil characters are often plucked from real-world events. As human trafficking has garnered more attention, it was inevitable that the issue would hit the big screen. Traffickers, after all, are your quintessential villains. They enslave and exploit human beings for profit.

Today, a growing number of films portray a hero taking down a human trafficking ring.

The Taken series, in which Liam Neeson plays an ex-CIA operative with “a very particular set of skills,” is arguably the best-known example. In the first installment, Neeson has 96 hours to rescue his daughter from an Albanian sex-trafficking ring in Paris that abducts young girls, drugs them and sells them to Middle Eastern sheikhs. He succeeds, of course, in supporting-cast-obliterating fashion.

In Human Trafficking, an earlier made-for-television movie, Mira Sorvino plays a New York City police officer who goes undercover to take down a Russian trafficking ring.

And in The Whistleblower, which is based on a true story, Rachel Weisz plays an American working as a UN peacekeeper in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina who uncovers a trafficking operation.

These movies have helped raise awareness of human trafficking. But there’s one problem. As my research shows, Taken, The Whistleblower and Human Trafficking propagate and reinforce several critical misunderstandings about trafficking.

Movie myths

Rachel Weisz in The Whistleblower. 20th Century Fox

All three films portray only sex trafficking of young women and girls. The movies depict Americans as heroes, and “others” – Albanians, Arabs, Russians – as villains. The Whistleblower offers a more nuanced picture with both an American hero and some Americans involved in the exploitation. Finally, in true Hollywood fashion, rescue represents the end of the story.

A viewer might leave these movies unaware that there is more than trafficking for sex, that labor trafficking also exists and that it occurs in numerous industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to restaurants and hair salons. Viewers might not know that men, women, boys, girls and transgendered individuals are all targets of human trafficking.

Viewers might also be misled into thinking that the problem is a foreign one, leaving them unaware of the role Americans play in human trafficking. In fact, some traffickers are American, and the U.S. drives demand for inexpensive goods like clothes and electronics, some of which is made possible by the work of exploited individuals.

Finally, moviegoers might have no idea that rescue is really only the beginning of an even more challenging process – assisting and supporting survivors in their recovery and reintegration into their communities.

Too much dramatic license

Why does this matter? This is Hollywood, after all. We know that James Bond does not represent the reality of life as a spy, despite the more battered, world-weary spin Daniel Craig has given him recently. But most of us don’t engage in espionage after a spy movie ends.

Human trafficking is different. As President Obama highlighted in a recent presidential proclamation declaring January national slavery and human trafficking prevention month, every sector of society can play a role in combating this problem.

The president echoed what many scholars and advocates like myself have emphasized: a comprehensive, multisector response is needed to prevent human trafficking.

This effort requires that people know not just that human trafficking exists, but exactly what it is.

As with other violent crime, only a fraction of the population has any personal experience with human trafficking. Few individuals have talked with a survivor about his or her experiences, and not many have read the existing research on human trafficking. Most of the public garners much of what they know about human trafficking from media portrayals of the issue. This includes some individuals now working on anti-trafficking initiatives. I’ve listened to scholars and advocates at conferences praise these movies without mentioning their inaccuracies. It seems even the savviest among us believe more from the media than we discard.

Impact on responses

Maggie Grace in Taken. 20th Century Fox

If popular portrayals of human trafficking shape what advocates and the general population understand about the issue, then they will also shape what people advocate for. And federal and state law and policy on human trafficking reflect many of the same distortions found in films on human trafficking.

Beginning with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 and continuing with dozens of laws adopted at the federal and state level since then, the law on human trafficking has centered primarily on criminal law, reflecting the “rescue” narrative. Such law enforcement is necessary but not sufficient. Other critical components – prevention and services for survivors – have received much less in the way of resources.

The depiction of young women and girls trafficked for sex as the quintessential victims has shaped law enforcement efforts, leading to a prioritization of combating sex trafficking of women and girls over labor trafficking or the plight of exploited men, boys and transgendered individuals.

When media portrayals show only sex trafficking of women and girls, the risk is that labor trafficking and other vulnerable and exploited individuals do not receive the attention they need. In fact, research by the International Labor Organization and other organizations suggests that the number of labor trafficking victims may well exceed the number of sex trafficking victims.

In addition, current anti-trafficking law and advocacy continues to pay too little attention to the root causes of this exploitation. The lack of emphasis on prevention reflects the popular notions that “rescue” is what is needed. It also indicates an unwillingness to acknowledge that mainstream U.S. culture and consumerism contribute to the demand for the goods and services provided by exploited individuals. In contrast to Hollywood portrayals, the reality is that the food we eat and the clothes we wear may well be produced by trafficked labor.

What we can do

Of course, Hollywood is not going to stop making action movies. But we can do a better job of calling attention to the disconnect between cinematic portrayals of human trafficking and the reality of the problem. The desire to keep celebrities engaged in particular social issues is understandable given the attention they can bring to an issue, but it should not mean remaining silent in the face of inaccurate or unbalanced portrayals.

Ultimately, it is critical that policymakers and advocates have access to and rely on evidence-based research and survivor perspectives on human trafficking so that they can develop responses that are likely to make a difference.

Jonathan Todres, Professor of Law, Georgia State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why Human Rights Matter to Anti-Trafficking Efforts

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  Despite the tireless efforts of many, as President Obama statedin his recent Presidential Proclamation, “the injustice of modern slavery and human trafficking still tears at our social fabric.” This month provides an opportunity to both raise awareness about the problem and galvanize support for action that can reduce the prevalence of human trafficking.

There is a growing body of law at the international, national, and state levels addressing human trafficking specifically.  Although those represent important developments, there has been limited progress on the root causes of human trafficking. That’s where human rights come in. Human trafficking thrives because there is demand for the good and services produced by exploited individuals and because there are millions of vulnerable adults and children.

The foundational principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” – is a direct challenge to the devaluation of human lives that is embedded in the demand side of human trafficking. Human rights education  fosters tolerance and reduces disregard for others’ rights.  And, when realized, human rights – including the rights to birth registration, health care, education, and housing; labor rights; and the principle of nondiscrimination, to name a few – can reduce the vulnerability of marginalized populations so that they are not pushed into human trafficking settings.

The challenges we face today as human rights advocates are seemingly endless. It’s often difficult simply drawing sufficient attention to rights violations. Human trafficking is one area where everyone from policymakers to parents wants action.  Demonstrating the value of human rights to human trafficking can help advance anti-trafficking efforts and serve as a model for applying human rights approaches to other pressing issues.

 

First published at Home Rights at Home blog.

NEW PUBLICATION: Physician Encounters with Human Trafficking: Legal Consequences and Ethical Considerations

Abstract:

There is growing recognition and evidence that health care professionals regularly encounter—though they may not identify—victims of human trafficking in a variety of health care settings. Identifying and responding appropriately to trafficking victims or survivors requires not only training in trauma-informed care but also consideration of the legal and ethical issues that arise when serving this vulnerable population. This essay examines three areas of law that are relevant to this case scenario: criminal law, with a focus on conspiracy; service provider regulations, with a focus on mandatory reporting laws; and human rights law. In addition to imposing a legal mandate, the law can inform ethical considerations about how health care professionals should respond to human trafficking.

Click here for the full article, published in the AMA Journal of Ethics (January 2017).

California takes step toward Children’s Bill of Rights

On December 5, 2016, California state senator Dr. Richard Pan introduced the Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in California.  The bill will consider aims create a “comprehensive framework” for addressing rights and needs of children.

If approved by the Legislature, the Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in California would achieve two important aims. First, it would provide recognition of California children’s basic human rights, including “the right to parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest,” “the right to live in a safe and healthy environment,” “the right to appropriate, quality education,” and “the right to appropriate, quality health care.”  These are foundational rights that would help ensure that every child in California can develop to his or her fullest potential.

Second, the Bill of Rights would provide a roadmap for action. The Legislature would be required by January 1, 2022 to develop evidence-based policy solutions to secure the rights of all children across the state, determine the resources needed to achieve this framework, and identify and obtain such resources.

Of course, there will be challenges on the road to achieving these goals, particularly in an era of limited budgets, but the Bill of Rights builds in a five-year period to develop appropriate solutions (even though many children really cannot wait until 2022 to access quality education or a safe environment).

No doubt there will be some who resist the first part of the Bill of Rights—the recognition of children’s rights, or human rights more broadly (see, e.g., the recently adopted Mountain View Human Rights City resolution).  So let’s be clear on what it means to resist the idea that children have rights.

The foundational principle of human rights is that rights are inherent. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Article 1). Long before that, the U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaimed that “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” In other words, if you are human, you have rights.  If you resist the idea that children have rights, you are saying that rights are not inherent, but that they are granted to you by the government only when you reach adulthood.

Perhaps you accept that rights are inherent and thus that children have rights, but you have reservations about the Bill of Rights’ roadmap for action. If your concern is that ensuring health care or safe environments for children is “socialist,” you are overlooking two points (beyond the fact that the U.S. will not become a socialist country): (1) recognizing children have a right to necessary medical care does not mean the government has to be the provider; and (2) if you have time to argue over whether socialism could ever gain traction in the U.S. instead of having to focus on figuring out how to ensure there is food on the table for your children, you are in a privileged position, and not every family or child is.

Second, if your concern is it will cost too much to ensure “quality education” for every child, what you are really saying is that you don’t think it’s a priority. Anyone who has ever worked with a budget, whether it is for an appropriations bill or a grocery list, knows that you have to make choices.  But if you don’t support the idea that every child should have access to quality health care and education, you are saying that our children’s development matters less than every other line item we choose to fund.  Surely the future of our children—and thus this country—matters more than that.

I, for one, applaud the California legislature for taking this on, for daring to envision a world in which every child has the care and support needed to develop to his or her fullest potential.

 

First published at Human Rights at Home blog.

 

 

NEW PUBLICATION: The Complexities of Conducting Research on Child Trafficking

There is growing recognition of the need for more evidence-based research on child trafficking. However, such research raises important legal and ethical questions. 

In a new essay for JAMA Pediatrics, my colleague, Leslie Wolf and I examine some of the legal and ethical issues in conducting research on child trafficking.

Click here for a link to the article on the JAMA Pediatrics website.

 

Enjoy Halloween, But Do So Responsibly

“Can’t we just let kids enjoy Halloween?” Inevitably that’s the response I receive this time of year when I mention the ongoing exploitation of children in the chocolate industry. The answer to that question, by the way, is yes. Yes, children should be allowed to enjoy Halloween, but the evidence on cocoa production is that our enjoyment of chocolate comes at the expense of children in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and other countries.

Enjoying Halloween and supporting efforts to end child labor are not mutually exclusive. Don’t take my word for it. Click here to read what one thoughtful 10-year-old student in New Mexico wrote about the issue (and a list of Fair Trade chocolate brands can be found here).

 

First published on the Human Rights at Home blog.

 

Atonement and Action for the Final 100 Days

Next week is Yom Kippur (Sundown, October 11 to Sundown, October 12), the Day of Atonement on the Jewish calendar. As tradition has it, atoning on Yom Kippur will address only sins against God. For transgressions against other individuals, Jews are obligated to seek forgiveness from and reconciliation with those people first. Yom Kippur also marks the end of the High Holidays, and thus offers the prospects of a fresh start and an opportunity to do better than we did the year before.

While I’m well aware that President Obama is not Jewish (or Muslim—are people still really talking about that?), I’d like to invite him to participate, at least in spirit.  And I think the timing is appropriate, because Yom Kippur falls approximately 100 days from the end of the Obama Presidency—leaving one final window of opportunity for the president while still in the Oval Office.

On his inauguration in 2009, newly-elected President Obama boldly proclaimed that “[a]s for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Human rights advocates hailed his election and speech as the dawn of a new, promising era of progress on human rights. The past eight years haven’t necessarily lived up to expectations.

So, with little more than 100 days left in the Obama Presidency, I have two hopes. First is that he is reflecting on shortcomings (e.g., no human rights treaty was ratified while he was in office; even President George W. Bush managed to achieve ratification of two human rights treaties). Second is that he will use these final 100 days to do better.  Yes, I know he faces significant opposition in the Senate (the Senate’s failure to approve the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was deeply disappointing). But at the risk of sounding naïve, if you aren’t willing to try to advance the ball on human rights when holding arguably the most powerful position in the world, when is the right time? 

The “To Do List” for human rights is lengthy. But here are three options for President Obama that can be done within 100 days:

  1. End the federal government practice of confining migrant children in detention centers. No six-year-old who has fled violence in search of safety should be “welcomed” by being incarcerated. A recent essay by Wendy Cervantes at First Focus sheds light on this practice.
  2. Ban child labor in tobacco production. The adverse health consequences of tobacco use are well known. Less well-known is the harm inflicted on those who work in tobacco fields, particularly children. In August 2016, 110 organizations called on President Obama to protect children from “acute nicotine poisoning and other health and safety hazards faced by children working in US tobacco fields.” (click here for the letter to President Obama from the Child Labor Coalition and other organizations).
  3. Send the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the Senate. The U.S. is now the only country in the world that has not ratified the CRC. This is the closest any human rights treaty has come to universal acceptance. Since the U.S. signed the treaty in 1995, no President has taken further action. No one can prevent President Obama from forwarding the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent. Are there sufficient votes in the Senate now for ratification? Probably not. Might some Senators object? Probably.  But it’s President Obama’s decision, and sending the treaty to the Senate would be a step forward.

These three opportunities all have two important things in common: First, President Obama has the power to act on all of these. Second, all three steps would help move the United States in direction of ensuring the rights and well-being of children. It’s time for action.

 

First published on the Human Rights at Home blog on October 7, 2016.

Also published on First Focus, a national nonpartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions.

Interview on WABE, Atlanta's NPR Station

I was delighted to be a guest today on City Lights with Lois Reitzes, on Atlanta's NPR Station. We had a wonderful conversation about my new book, Human Rights in Children's Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law (Oxford University Press 2016).

To access the podcast, visit: GSU Professor Explores How Children’s Books Teach Human Rights.

To learn more about the book project and to share your ideas, click here.