Costa Rica / Global Perspectives on Children & the Law: Final Reflections

We had a remarkable week exploring children’s rights in Costa Rica. As I often say when teaching, the law is ultimately about people. And this Study Abroad trip provided an opportunity to see how the law interacts with and affects the lived experience of diverse communities, from migrants living in an informal settlement in San Jose to indigenous peoples living in rural Costa Rica. Our final day included two site visits:

  • Tecnológico de Costa Rica (TEC), a university with an innovative program focused on increasing access to higher education for indigenous students in Costa Rica. Thank you to Diana Segura Sojo and the students in the program (you were all amazing; we learned so much and left inspired).

  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Thank you for hosting us and giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the Court and its work (and its innovative ideas when it comes to remedies).

We are truly grateful to all the individuals and institutions who gave their time to our program, including especially our partners at the University for Peace Centre for Executive Education. Thanks also to GSU College of Law, its Center for Law, Health and Society, and the GSU Study Abroad Office for their support. Finally, I am grateful to the students on the program—their commitment inspires me and gives me hope for the future.

In the spirit of the TEC program, I end this “Wrap Up” post with the students’ voices. Selected reflections are included below:

  • Global Perspectives on Children and the Law is a fully immersive program that will help you truly understand the impact that human rights law can have on a vast number of individuals and communities. The program focused on various aspects of children rights issues, practices, and programs covering health, social, cultural, environmental, economic, and educational rights. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity not only to bond with a group of highly educated people and experience the reality of Costa Rica on a deeper level, but also it gave us tools to look at human rights law and the seemingly insurmountable world problems in a different lens. — Pamela Pedersen

  • I have gained a great appreciation for the Costa Rican people's implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, providing access to education and healthcare while maintaining their culture. Something so monumental requires the full support of the citizens and that is evident here. It has opened my eyes to see that my way (or on a bigger scale, the US way) is not the only way. This trip has provided me with an appreciation for international law and direction for my career in law in the U.S. Lastly, somewhat unexpectedly, I learned a lot about healthcare in Costa Rica as compared to the US system which will enable me to take a more educated stance in my personal life.  — Ashley O’Neil

  • We take for granted the notion that our ways of life are the only ways feasible. Math, as we perceive it, is a universal language. We can’t all learn the same. We can’t all be medicated the same. The challenge has been and continues to be incorporating two diverse worlds and having cultural pertinence in all aspects of an individual’s life. Visiting TEC made me realize how much our school systems lack in understanding that you can’t take a huge group of DIFFERENT kids and expect them to learn in the SAME manner. Visiting an indigenous community near San Vito showed me that you can have a universal understanding of what medicine is but also allow alternative methods of medicine to be incorporated — Mattou Mokri

  • This trip has been not only enlightening and educational, but also a lot of fun. I feel as if I’ve gotten a full tour of Costa Rica, from government agencies and programs, to city living and the beach. As they say in Costa Rica, Pura Vida!  — Sophie Welf



Costa Rica -- Days 3 & 4: The lived experience of migrant indigenous peoples

Days 3 and 4: Over the past two days, we’ve had the opportunity to enrich our understanding of the lived experience of indigenous communities in the south of Costa Rica and the rights-based approach of the government to health and other interventions. The Casa de la Alegría program in Costa Rica offered a great example of an intervention that addresses the interrelated nature of children’s rights and the rights of their parents. In addition, our visit to La Casona, an indigenous territory, provided important insights into how health and human rights interventions can be adapted to meet communities where they are and ensure respect for local culture.

Many thanks to the following: Carlos Faerron Guzmán, from whom we learned so much; the other individuals who joined us for various parts of these two days and shared their knowledge; the communities that gave us the opportunity to visit and learn from them; and the Organization for Tropical Studies for hosting us.



Costa Rica -- Day 2: From International to Indigenous Perspectives


Day 2:  Another fantastic day in Costa Rica. It started with a thought-provoking, framework-challenging lecture from UPEACE Professor Olivia Sylvester on indigenous peoples’ rights, cultural traditions, and perspectives. This not only provided a critical foundation for some of the work will we do later in the week, but it also challenged all of us to think about what it really means to look at issues such as conservation, education, and human rights from the perspectives of indigenous peoples. Representatives from UNICEF and Defence for Children International then briefed us on the status of children’s rights and child well-being in Costa Rica. Finally, we had the opportunity to visit with PANI (the national child welfare agency) and also visit a group home for children. Through all of these presentations and visits, we were able to gain insights into the role of international organizations, government agencies, and local NGOs in advancing children’s rights.

Our thanks to all who shared their insights with us today.

More to come tomorrow….


Costa Rica -- Day 1: From Social Innovation to the Lived Experience

Day 1:  Sunday, our first day, was anything but a day of rest.  We jumped run into things, spending the morning at the University for Peace, a United Nations-mandated university and our partner institution for this program, learning about social innovation and brainstorming about how design thinking might be applied to children’s rights issues.

After a lunchtime hike to the Monument to Disarmament, Labor, and Peace and beyond, we were privileged to spend the afternoon in the Triangulo de la Solidaridad informal settlement community in San Jose. We are so grateful to the Boy with a Ball team who were our guides and to the community who welcomed us and gave us a chance to learn about their lives.

Arriving at UPEACE

Arriving at UPEACE


Universal Children’s Day: An Opportunity for Common Ground

All parents share one thing in common. Whatever our differences – across race, religion, socio-economic status, political beliefs, and more – every parent wants the best for their children. We disagree on a lot these days, but I haven’t heard a single parent wish that their children will do worse than they did.

Now consider this ambitious vision proclaimed almost thirty years ago:  Every child in the world “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” and be raised “in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.”  This ideal reflects what all of us would want for our children, for all children. After all, no parent hopes their children will suffer misery, war, and inequality.  

This grand vision was announced in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Adopted in 1989, the CRC was the first comprehensive human rights treaty on children. It established a holistic framework for ensuring the rights and well-being of all children. The CRC covers both civil and political rights (such as freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment) and economic, social, and cultural rights (such as the right to education). It also includes rights unique to children (such as the right to know and be cared for by one’s parents).

Given the universal appeal of its goals, it won’t be surprising to hear that it’s the most widely-accepted human rights treaty in history. Every country in the world has ratified the CRC, except the United States.

In the United States, the CRC has become a victim of much broader political and ideological battles, a phenomenon that too often tragically happens to children themselves. Highly charged rhetoric masks the reality of the CRC and children’s rights more broadly—that is, the fulfillment of children’s rights is consistent with what the vast majority of parents want for their kids. They want their children to have access to health care and education, to be free to observe their faith without government interference, to live without discrimination, and to grow up without suffering violence or exploitation.

Despite the major role the U.S. government played in drafting the CRC and the numerous similarities between U.S. law and the treaty, the U.S. government isn’t likely to ratify the CRC anytime soon.

But given the shared values in what parents dream of and what the CRC mandates for children, the idea of children’s rights remains relevant in the United States. We don’t have to wait passively for government to act; we can take action, guided by children’s rights values.

So, for Universal Children's Day (November 20) or any day thereafter, here are three steps each of us can take to forge common ground and improve the lives of children:

1.      Read the CRC. Whether it is the CRC’s declaration that the family is “the fundamental group of society,” the 19 provisions of the CRC that recognize the vital role of parents and the family in the lives of children, the treaty’s support for education, its prohibition on torturing children, or something else, find an element of the CRC that resonates with your values as a parent, family member, American, or human being.

2.      Find and support (financially or as a volunteer) an organization in your community that advances an aspect of the CRC that you support. 

3.      Vote for kids. And not just on election day. Make your voice heard often, by urging your representatives to support initiatives that help secure the rights and wellbeing of children.

If we all can do that, then this Universal Children’s Day can be a turning point, a day when we found common ground on which to build a world where every child can develop to its full potential.

This essay was published on the First Focus website and on the Human Rights at Home Blog.

Play Revisited

Although the start of the school year might seem like an odd time to discuss play, it is in facts a critical time to do so. As school starts, demands on children’s time increase significantly, typically leaving much less time for play, especially unstructured play.

Yet play is a vital to child development. As Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg explains in an article in Pediatrics:

‘Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.… Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills…. Play is integral to the academic environment…. It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills.’

In other words, play is essential to the healthy development of children, and it enhances children’s capacity to succeed in school.

In addition, play is not just a good idea, it is also a human right—one that has been recognized since the beginning of the human rights movement. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational document of the human rights movement adopted in 1948, states that: “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay” (Article 24). The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child—the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights and the most widely-accepted human rights treaty in history—establishes that governments must “recognize the right of [every] child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

There is a reason why certain things—from education to free speech to prohibitions on torture—are recognized as rights. They are deeply connected to the dignity inherent in each human being. Play and its breadth of developmental benefits sustain and enhance human dignity.  As policy makers, educators, and parents, our job is to ensure we secure every child’s right to play. And if we join them sometimes, we might even have fun too.


For more on play, here’s a link to a great source on play and its benefits: momlovesbest.



NEW PUBLICATION: The Trump Effect, Children and the Value of Human Rights Education



Since launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump's rhetoric has often been divisive as well as demeaning of selected groups. This article examines the impact of Trump's rhetoric on children and their communities and explores the role that human rights education can play in responding to Trump and forging broader support for human rights. The article reviews the research on human rights education and considers how human rights education can be embedded in broader efforts to educate children. Using children's literature as a case study, the article argues for the importance of mainstreaming human rights education and meeting children where they are, in order to foster greater recognition of and respect for the rights of all individuals.

Full citation and link to article: Jonathan Todres, "The Trump Effect, Children, and the Value of Human Rights Education," Family Court Review, 56(2): 331-343 (2018).

A draft of the chapter is also available on SSRN.


Children's Rights at Leiden Law School


I am honored to have been invited to give two talks at Leiden Law School in the Netherlands on March 22-23, 2018. I had the opportunity to share my research on human rights in children's literature with children's rights faculty, staff, and students, and then present on child trafficking to human rights students.  In short, Leiden Law School is a wonderfully engaged and dynamic place. The faculty, staff, and students working on children's rights issues (and other human rights issues) were the perfect hosts. My sincere thanks to the entire community. I hope I can visit again soon.

For more on Leiden's children's rights program, click here.

p.s. The city of Leiden is wonderful too!




Fulbright in Ireland

I'm delighted to have received a Fulbright to conduct research and teach at University College Cork School of Law in Ireland for the Spring 2018 semester. I will be conducting research on human rights education for children, focusing on rights discourses in children’s literature and other spaces children inhabit. I also will be co-teaching an International Children's Rights course with Dean Ursula Kilkelly

I will post updates from time to time. In the meantime, here's a glimpse of the beautiful campus.


NEW PUBLICATION: Confronting Child Exploitation: The Optional Protocols and the Role of Children’s Rights Law

I have a new chapter “Confronting Child Exploitation: The Optional Protocols and the Role of Children’s Rights Law" published in Violence against Children: Making Human Rights Real, edited by Gertrud Lenzer, Routledge, January 2018. 

For more information on the book, click here.


The Children’s Peace Prize Winner: An Inspirational Reminder

This week, sixteen-year-old Mohamad Al Jounde from Syria was awarded the International Children's Peace Prize for his work ensuring the rights of Syrian refugee children. When he was 12 years old, Al Jounde, a Syrian refugee himself, decided that he was going to establish a school for children in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camp. He convinced family members and other volunteers to help build the school and to teach various classes. After only a few years, the school now provides education to 200 children.

Al Jounde’s inspirational work matters so much because Syrian refugee children have suffered both tremendous disruption in their lives and countless violations of their human rights. His work also matters because education has a multiplier effect; as Katarina Tomaševski, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, wrote: “Education operates as a multiplier, enhancing the enjoyment of all individual rights and freedoms where the right to education is effectively guaranteed, while depriving people of the enjoyment of many rights and freedoms where the right to education is denied or violated.”

Al Jounde’s work is also a poignant reminder: Not only do children’s rights matter, so do children’s voices. Children are powerful allies in the movement to secure human rights for all.  Mohamad Al Jounde’s advocacy on behalf of refugees. Malala Yousafzai’s bravery in standing up to the Taliban. The thousands of courageous children who marched in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963 to challenge racial discrimination in the United States. And countless other young people who have worked to fulfill the ideal that human rights belong to all.  The youth of yesterday and today offer innumerable models of courage.

We should celebrate Mohamad Al Jounde’s work. And, as we do, we should remind ourselves of the transformative capabilities of young people and ensure that their voices and ideas are heard.


This blog was first published on the Human Rights at Home blog.

NEW PUBLICATION: Adolescents’ Right to Participate: Opportunities and Challenges for Health Care Professionals


Adolescents’ Right to Participate: Opportunities and Challenges for Health Care Professionals

Jonathan Todres & Angela Diaz



BACKGROUND: Health care professionals and patients are partners in health care delivery, and this partnership is critical in the treatment of adolescents. International children’s rights law establishes that all children have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Fulfillment of that right is as critical in health care settings as any other area of children’s lives.

OBJECTIVES: In this article we examine the right to participate under international children’s rights law, its relevance to health care settings, and how health care professionals can foster adolescents’ participation to fulfill children’s rights and improve health care outcomes.

FINDINGS: The Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes a legal mandate—where ratified— that adolescents have the right to express their views in health care settings and that such views must be given due consideration. In many health care settings, adolescents are not adequately consulted or have limited opportunities to express their views. A review of research finds that both processes and outcomes can improve when youth participation is cultivated.

CONCLUSIONS: Health care providers and organizations have numerous opportunities to cultivate adolescent’s participation rights and in doing so improve health care delivery and outcomes. Health care providers and organizations should further develop structures and processes to ensure opportunities for children and adolescents to be heard on matters relevant to their health care and health status. Creating opportunities for adolescents to realize their right to participate means engaging youth at every stage in the process, beginning with the design of such opportunities. It also means addressing all aspects of health care, from the built environment to patient-provider communication to follow-up services, so that the entire process fosters an environment conductive to meaningful participation by adolescents

Click here for the full article.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Platform for Improving Children’s Lives


Every child in the world ‘should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding’ and be raised ‘in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity’.  This bold vision, announced by the United Nations almost 30 years ago, was not merely aspirational – it was part of the foundation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adopted in 1989, the Convention, or CRC, was the first comprehensive human rights treaty on children.

The CRC establishes a framework for ensuring the rights and well-being of all children. It covers both civil and political rights (such as freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment) and economic, social, and cultural rights (such as the right to education). It also includes rights unique to children (such as the right to know and be cared for by one’s parents).

A transformative human rights treaty

While the scope of the treaty is impressive, what makes the CRC potentially transformative is that it establishes a legal mandate. This means governments must respect and ensure the rights of every child,  and conversely, children—and their parents or other caregivers acting on their behalf—can use the CRC to insist that governments do not violate their rights.

Since the advent of the CRC we have witnessed dramatic progress on many issues affecting children. Globally, under-five child mortality has declined by more than half, from approximately 12.7 million children annually to fewer than six million. School enrolment has increased, and child labour has dropped.

Although these are reasons to celebrate, a lot of work remains. Far too many young children die each year from malnutrition and other preventable causes. Universal primary education, while closer to reality, has yet to be realised. And progress on child labour has slowed.  What’s more, the global numbers mask disparities across and within countries. In some areas – especially armed conflicts – children continue to suffer multiple rights violations. Governments must do more to fulfil the CRC’s mandate.

Children flourish when their rights are respected

Successful implementation of the CRC requires greater emphasis on the treaty’s core provisions: The best interests of the child must inform all actions concerning children (Article 3), and the rights in the treaty must be assured to all children without discrimination of any kind (Article 2). Every provision of the CRC is relevant to ensuring each child can develop to his or her full potential. That said, two CRC ideas are particularly noteworthy:

  • Article 12 establishes that children have the right to express their views “in all matters affecting the child” and to have their views be given “due weight” in accordance with their age and maturity. This means that youth have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Equally important, youth participation improves outcomes. Children and adolescents can offer insights that are critical to the success of policies and programmes for children. Policy makers and other adults must include children more to ensure their input.
  • The CRC says that the family is ‘the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children’. Nineteen provisions of the CRC recognise the vital role of parents and the family in the lives of children. Supporting children’s rights means advancing policies and programmes that support families and address systemic issues that make it difficult for children and their families to realise their rights.

Honouring children’s rights

Recognising children’s agency and inherent dignity while supporting families honours children’s rights in a way that is responsive to children’s development

Given the CRC places the primary legal obligation on the state, it’s fair to ask how each of us can support children’s rights. Eleanor Roosevelt once stated that universal human rights begin ‘in small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world... Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.’

Each of us can support and strengthen children’s rights by beginning close to home. We can engage children in a dialogue about rights (their own and the rights of others). We can advocate for children’s rights.  And, most important of all, we can listen to and ensure that all children are heard on matters that affect their lives.


This essay was first published on the Amnesty International UK website.

Share My Lesson profile

I'm honored to have been profiled on the Share My Lesson website for my work on human rights in children's literature. 

See below for an excerpt and link to the full profile:

We are certain that being English language arts teachers has helped illuminate how much a kindred spirit Jonathan Todres has become to us. However, being a teacher is not a requirement when considering the importance of his work and all of the possible applications in and out of any content-area classroom. Read on to find out how literature and the imagination have grown central to Todres’ work with children’s rights and beyond....  To continue reading, click  here .

We are certain that being English language arts teachers has helped illuminate how much a kindred spirit Jonathan Todres has become to us. However, being a teacher is not a requirement when considering the importance of his work and all of the possible applications in and out of any content-area classroom. Read on to find out how literature and the imagination have grown central to Todres’ work with children’s rights and beyond....

To continue reading, click here.

CRC Committee Releases Recommendations on U.S. Response to Child Trafficking

Last month, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child met with a U.S. government delegation as part of its formal review of the United States under two of the optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States ratified the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2002, and this represented a combined third and fourth review of the U.S. government practices. The Committee has now released its Concluding Observations  with respect to the U.S. efforts under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children.

While acknowledging a number of important legislative developments in the United States since the last review – such as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) and the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act – the Committee also addressed a number of critical shortcomings. What is notable (and troubling) is that many of the Committee’s recommendations highlighted issues in the U.S. response that the Committee previously addressed in 2008 and 2013. These findings should be a reminder to policy makers and anti-trafficking advocates that although significant efforts are underway, the U.S. response still has a long way to go.

Highlights of the Committee recommendations are below:

1.       Insufficient data collection and evidence-based research. The Committee reiterated concerns over the “lack of progress on establishing an effective national data collection system on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography” and the “insufficient research and evidence-based policy and programme analysis centred on children and the root causes of the crimes affecting them.” Simply put, without good evidence, it’s highly unlikely that the U.S. can develop a truly effective response.

2.       Lack of evaluation of training programs. The Committee praised the U.S. government’s report that it provides training on trafficking and other issues covered by the Optional Protocol “to all persons and institutions that come into contact with children” (NGOs working on these issues will be surprised by this claim by the U.S. government). However, the Committee notes the importance of evaluating the effectiveness and impact of that training. Evaluation of laws, policies, and programs continues to be insufficient, leaving it unclear whether the U.S. is doing something or doing something effective.

3.       Unbalanced efforts in addressing sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The Committee restated its finding that across many areas the U.S. government’s emphasis on sex trafficking persists. There still are higher legal burdens for establishing trafficking of children for forced labor than for sexual exploitation, and research remains “overwhelmingly focused on trafficking for sexual exploitation” with relatively little on labor trafficking. All children deserve protection from exploitation.

4.        Lack of primary prevention focus and efforts. The Committee again noted that the U.S. response typically takes place after some harm has occurred and urged the U.S. government to focus also on primary and secondary prevention. Prevention must be the ultimate goal, and general awareness campaigns are not sufficient. The U.S. government must address the root causes of vulnerability and of the demand for goods and services provided by exploited children, if we are to make meaningful progress in preventing harm to children.

5.       Finally, the Committee also acknowledged the recent surge in the number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children, and it urged the U.S. government to take concerted efforts to ensure the protection of these children.

The entire Concluding Observations are worth a close reading. Addressing the above recommendations and other recommendations in the Concluding Observations will take significant effort and resources to address. However, they offer a roadmap to preventing harm to children and ensuring the rights of all children. Both of those aims seem worth the effort and resources.


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

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.

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.