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

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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.

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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….

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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

 

Abstract:

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.

 

Before 5:00 a.m.

The shuttle to Logan airport picked me up at 4:40 am. I had given a presentation the day before and was returning home early in time to teach my afternoon class. If you haven’t been on the road before 5:00 am, I recommend it for only one reason:  it provides a valuable reminder of how many people work really hard. In the darkness of that hour, while most people are sleeping and most businesses are closed, you'll come across overnight desk clerks at hotels, shuttle drivers, 24-hour gas station attendants, long distance truck drivers, and others working through the night.  It has been a long time since I worked all night, but I recall the toll it takes.  And for some people, that night shift is one of two jobs they’ll work that day. I suppose, in this bizarro world of today’s politics, I expected to acknowledge that it is possible the hotel desk clerk was in fact an undercover millionaire who just liked working nights. However, contrary to what some politics pundits might suggest, the exception--if it exists--does not disprove the rule. Most people do not prefer to spend their nights working and away from their families. What came to me during the hour-long ride to the airport is the importance of human rights: the right to a fair wage, decent working conditions, health care, and more.  Most of us working in human rights understandably focus our energy on individuals or communities confronting urgent and often severe violations of human rights. But being on the road before 5:00 am is a reminder that human rights remains relevant to all individuals, in all walks of life. 

 

First published at Human Rights at Home blog.

 

 

The Other Side of Othering

In politics and popular culture, we’ve always had villains, devalued enemies, and others who purportedly stand for everything we are not.  They enable us to see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. This cast of characters has been called many things over the years—scapegoats, savages, evildoers, and worse. Social scientists use the term “otherness” to describe this process, its functions, and its impact.  Othering is front and center in U.S. politics today.  

The Trump Administration, through both words and actions, has advanced a worldview in which selected people are devalued based on their religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, and national origin. Critiques of this othering rightly focus on the harm that accrues from suggesting certain individuals are lesser human beings or even less than human. But there is another side to othering that is similarly dangerous. Othering operates not only to advance the idea of a lesser Other, but also to perpetuate the idea of the virtuous Self (or dominant group).

Trump offers an extreme, though not unique, version of both sides of this phenomenon. His words suggest that anyone is who not a White, Christian, straight man is Other.  And he understands himself as without flaw. 

The problem with this myopic view is not only that it inflicts harm on targeted groups, but it also negates any possibility that we might become something better. After all, if we are the best in the world, why would we need to change?  The answer is perhaps most easily – and least threateningly – revealed by looking at the sports world. The best athletes achieve and sustain greatness by constantly engaging in self-critique, identifying weaknesses, and addressing shortcomings.  So should we, as a society.

Thus far, the dominant response to the horror and tragedy of Charlottesville has failed to do so meaningfully. Many U.S. politicians and commentators have objected to Trump’s comments, responding “this is not who we are.”  Although they were right to repudiate Trump’s remarks, resting on “this is not who we are” actually risks further entrenching otherness constructs; it rejects white supremacists as not us, so we can preserve the idea that we are heroes in this story.  

To be clear, distancing oneself from white supremacists is not the moral equivalent of marching with KKK members and neo Nazis, despite certain statements about blame belonging to “many sides.” But failing to acknowledge the historical and structural elements of U.S. society that led to white supremacists marching on Charlottesville perpetuates the idea that our broader society is without fault.

Racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred persist in the United States.  This is not the result of merely a few deviant actors. Until there is broad recognition of this fact and critical engagement of the complex structural and historical issues that give life to bigotry in this country, condemnation of white supremacist rallies or Trump, while necessary, will fail bring about meaningful change.

 

First published at: 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. Also published on the First Focus website.

Summer, Play, and Human Rights

For many, the arrival of summer conjures up memories of childhood adventures (or, for parents, images of their children playing and exploring).  Play and leisure are not typically associated with human rights, but they are part of human rights law and important to children’s growth and well-being.

In fact, the “right to play” is intertwined with other important rights, as Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

1. States Parties recognize the right of the 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.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.’

Play, rest, leisure, and participation in family and community cultural life are all connected. This idea is not new to human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states in Article 24 that: “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”  In other words, a similar concept was recognized in the foundational document of the human rights movement.  Though the drafters of the Universal Declaration and the early international human rights instruments tended to have adults in mind, children are people too.  The Universal Declaration applies to children fundamentally because human rights do not depend on governments granting rights; individuals have rights because they are human beings.

While rest and leisure are important in the labor rights context for adults, opportunities for leisure and play are even more critical for children. 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 short, play contributes in a multitude of ways to the healthy development of the child and can improve a child’s capacity to realize his or her right to education.

Evidence of the importance of play and the rights to rest, leisure and play reinforce two important themes.  First, all rights matter:  the fulfillment of every right can contribute to the development and well-being of children. Second, there are many ways to support and help realize human rights for all: to create safe environments for children to play and explore their world is to advance human rights. 

 

Originally posted on Human Rights at Home blog.

The Importance of Human Rights Education

I recently returned from the Global Summit on Childhood in San Jose, Costa Rica, where hundreds of educators had gathered to explore innovative ways to foster child development and learning. Home to the UN-mandated University for Peace and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Costa Rica—which also abolished its armed forces constitutionally in 1949—was a fitting location to reflect on and exchange creative ideas about educating young people.  And it provided numerous reminders of the importance of human rights education.

Though it often receives less public attention than human rights litigation and policy initiatives, human rights education has been a part of international human rights law since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 26(2) of the Universal Declaration reads: “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

Subsequent human rights treaties—from the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights to the Convention on the Rights of the Child—all mandate and reinforce the importance of education aimed at strengthening respect for human rights, tolerance, and peace.  

Human rights education, however, means more than educating about human rights. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, adopted in 2011, establishes that human rights education encompasses three critical concepts:

(a) Education about human rights, which includes providing knowledge and understanding of human rights norms and principles, the values that underpin them and the mechanisms for their protection;

(b) Education through human rights, which includes learning and teaching in a way that respects the rights of both educators and learners;

(c) Education for human rights, which includes empowering persons to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others

In short, creating rights-respecting learning environments and educating individuals in ways that empower them as human rights actors are as important as transmitting knowledge of human rights norms.

It is critical that human rights education receive greater attention and be incorporated more broadly in school curricula in the United States and elsewhere. Research on human rights education demonstrates its capacity to produce numerous positive outcomes for children and adolescents, including an improved sense of self-worth, increased empathy, and a reduction in bullying and harmful behaviors in classrooms. In the end, if people are not taught about their rights and the rights of others, how will they be able to realize their own rights or effectively advocate for others?  

For additional resources on human rights education, click here.

First published on Human Rights at Home blog.