Yesterday (Sept 1, 2016), I was delighted to visit Emory Law and meet with students in Professor Barbara Woodhouse's children's rights seminar and to discuss Human Rights in Children's Literature. Prof. Woodhouse assigned our new book for this semester. We had a wonderful conversation about human rights in children's literature, human rights education, child participation, and many other critical issues. My thanks to the students for engaging the project so thoughtfully and to Prof. Woodhouse for the invitation and more generally for her wonderful work on children's rights.
At every stage in the legal process, from initial interactions with police to arrest, then prosecution, and trial, children face unique challenges navigating the legal system, due is significant part to the developmental nature of childhood. The idea that children are developmentally different and should not be held to adult standards has been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in opinions abolishing the death penalty in juvenile cases (Roper v Simmons) and limiting the application of juvenile life without parole sentences (Graham v. Florida). Despite this emerging recognition of children’s developing capacities and their needs, many youth still confront having to make critical decisions without adequate access to counsel.
On September 12, 2016, the House of Representatives will host a briefing on children’s right to counsel. Sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass and co-hosted by the American Bar Association, the Children's Advocacy Institute, First Focus, and the National Association of Counsel for Children , the briefing will include testimony from experts from child welfare, immigration and juvenile justice about the critical nature of legal representation for children. Click here for more information and to register to attend the briefing.
For an important and informative human rights perspective on the issue, see Bernadine Dohrn’s recent article which urges the United States to recognize children’s need to have access to counsel prior to being questioned.
First published on Human Rights at Home blog.
My coauthor Sarah Higinbotham and I were delighted to have the opportunity to present our new book, Human Rights in Children's Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law, at the Georgia Center for the Book on August 15, 2016.
Thanks to all who attended. Your interest and questions were wonderful.
For more on the book and the "Human Rights in Children's Literature" project, click here.
Even amidst the barbeques, beach trips, and sales during 4th of July weekend, most Americans are quick to declare proudly that July 4th is about our independence, our freedom. However we choose to celebrate/observe the holiday, I think we ought to spend some time asking, independent or free to do what, to be what.
To be clear, though history matters, I am not suggesting we ask what the signatories to the Declaration of Independence wanted, because we know that they permitted, and in some cases embraced, certain ideas we now reject (read: slavery, no voting rights for women, etc.). Independence means we can choose what type of society we want to create.
My wish? I want to live in and contribute to a society that elevates every child and is committed to protecting and ensuring the rights and well-being of all children. On that front, we have a long way to go, as evidenced by the newly-released State of the World's Children report, published by UNICEF. The annual report has sobering news for those who care about children around the globe. And it shows that the United States has work to do as well. Sure, the United States is performing better than many other countries, but the comparative analysis is not the full picture (after all, what parent of a sick child would willingly accept substandard health care for their child, simply because the provider said, well, in Somalia, some kids have no access to care at all). That the U.S. does better than other poorer countries is not anything to celebrate.
We shouldn’t use comparisons to make ourselves comfortable. Instead, we should see them as an indication of what’s possible. So, for example, with respect to infant and child (under-5) mortality, 43 countries with lower rates than the United States show that progress is possible. The U.S. is tied for 44th with Malaysia, Serbia Slovakia, and the United Arab Emirates. And our progress has slowed: in 1990, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was higher than the U.S. rate; they have improved and now do better than the United States.
Each year, the State of the World’s Children report centers around a theme issue; this year, it was inequity. The United States again stood out, for the wrong reasons. UNICEF reports:
In some rich countries, children from different backgrounds face starkly unequal prospects. For babies born [in the U.S.], the odds of survival are closely linked to ethnicity: In 2013, infants born to African American parents were more than twice as likely to die as those born to white Americans.
[D]isparities are reflected dramatically at the state level. The infant mortality rate of the state of Mississippi in 2013, for example, was double that of the state of Massachusetts.
And infant mortality is just the beginning. A child’s survival does not guarantee it will have the opportunity to develop to his or her full potential. The Declaration of Independence famously asserts that “all men are created equal.” It seems hard to believe that they intended this literally—equal only at the moment of birth, but thereafter we should be okay with significant inequity in survival rates, access to health care and education.
Of course, children are not the only area where human rights work remains. But success in ensuring children’s rights and well-being is foundational to creating a society where young people can realize their full potential and grow into adults who are empowered to realize their rights and contribute to their communities.
We’re not there yet. But as it’s been 240 years since the Declaration of Independence, it might be time to move a little faster.
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 tragic consequences of bullying have become a regular part of the news cycle. In April, an eighth grade girl in Missouri and a sixth grade boy in Pennsylvania committed suicide. Bullying was an important factor, according to their families.
While such devastating cases understandably draw the most attention, they risk leaving the impression that bullying is an issue only in severe cases. In fact, bullying is pervasive and often causes harm. As awareness spreads that bullying is not just a childhood rite of passage but a significant public health issue, the demand for action has increased.
A breadth of actors, from federal agencies to state legislatures to schools, are grappling with how to address the problem. And now a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine – a leading independent research organization – provides critical insights into bullying’s consequences and what is needed for an effective response....
Full article available at The Conversation.
Can Mandatory Reporting Laws Help Child Survivors of Human Trafficking?
Once thought of as primarily a criminal justice issue, human trafficking is now recognized an issue that implicates all sectors of society. Trafficked individuals have been identified in a breadth of industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, construction, mining, fisheries, forestry, health care, hospitality and tourism, domestic service, restaurants, forced-begging operations, and the sex industry. Preventing exploitation across so many sectors requires a comprehensive, coordinated response. In addition to the criminal justice system, social services, health care professionals, educators, businesses, media, and others all have a role to play in addressing human trafficking and its attendant forms of exploitation. As part of the recent push to broaden engagement in anti-trafficking efforts, policymakers and advocates have identified mandatory child abuse reporting statutes as a vehicle for engaging health care providers, educators, and others professionals who work with children to help identify children at risk of or exploited by human trafficking. This article examines the potential impact of mandatory reporting laws on efforts to address child trafficking. In the past several years, roughly one-quarter of the states have amended their mandatory reporting laws to cover some or all forms of human trafficking. This article argues that these measures, while well-intentioned, might not have the intended impact without further action. The article examines the potential for mandatory reporting to address both sex trafficking and labor trafficking and then discusses how to make mandatory reporting a more effective tool for addressing the trafficking of children.
Click here to access the full article.
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.
International criminal tribunals are in trouble. Lines are blurring between international legal systems. It’s increasingly difficult to balance the benefits of open trade with the negative impact of its volatility. Rhetoric around border and migration control is vociferous. At the American Society of International Law’s annual meeting (30 March – 2 April 2016), academics and practitioners will address the theme ‘Charting New Frontiers in International Law’. In preparation for the meeting, we asked some of our authors to share their thoughts.
“In many respects, children’s rights itself is still a new frontier. Although the first international instrument on children’s rights – the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child – was adopted in 1924, adults are still learning to think of children as rights holders. The liberal idea that rights reflect and protect individual autonomy fits awkwardly with how many of us understand and experience children, especially young ones. The evolving nature of children’s capacities – reflected in emerging research on both early childhood and brain development – demands that we think of children’s rights differently than we do of adults’. But how we balance children’s emerging autonomy with their need for protection remains a challenge. Children themselves frequently have thoughtful insights into the human rights challenges they confront (and potential solutions). Yet the traditional view of children, typified by adage that they should be ‘seen and not heard,’ discounts the value of children’s perspectives. Children should be understood as partners in the human rights movement. Ultimately, children’s rights – and educating children about their rights and their responsibilities to respect the rights of others – are essential to building just societies. We cannot expect young adults with no exposure to human rights concepts to assert their rights. Human rights education must start early in life.” - Jonathan Todres
See OUPblog for the full story.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child reached an important milestone in 2015, when Somalia and South Sudan completed the ratification process. Their actions leave only one of the 197 member states and parties of the United Nations as a holdout against ratifying the treaty: the United States....
Within the U.S., ratifying the CRC “could provide a framework to improve the well-being of all children,” says professor Jonathan Todres of Georgia State University College of Law in Atlanta, an expert on children and the law. In the international realm, he says, “a common refrain heard by U.S. human rights advocates, including myself, is: ‘How can the U.S. expect other countries to do more when it won’t even participate at all?’"
Full story, written by Martha Middleton, is available here.
Early childhood is widely recognized as a critical stage of development. Yet it’s also a stage during which children receive relatively little focus in the public domain. Most children’s early years are spent in the home, largely beyond the reach of law which historically has sought to retain a public/private divide. Yet waiting until children enter the public sphere (by starting school) before attending to children’s rights runs the risk of leaving millions of children at a disadvantage. This is not a call for government interference in the family, but rather a reminder of the state’s obligation to support children’s rights and well-being from birth. And advancing children’s rights means supporting parents and families, so they can provide for their children and ensure their children’s full development.
Supporting early childhood development means accounting for the interrelated and interdependent nature of rights. Not only does the realization of particular rights depend on the fulfillment of others—for example, children’s education rights depend, in part, on realization of their health rights—but the rights of certain individuals are tied to the rights of others. The rights of children and the rights of their parents are linked in this way. Many other governments have acknowledged the indivisible nature of rights and adopted holistic responses to the challenges facing families. Conditional cash transfer programs, which provide funding to families tied to conditions related to health and education, such as regular health care appointments for children and maintaining children’s enrollment in school, offer one example.
In many countries, conditional cash transfer program alleviate some of the financial pressure on low-income families to have their children work rather than attend school. By doing so, these programs help advance children’s health and education rights, while protecting kids from labor exploitation. At the same time, these payments can help bolster the family’s financial security, alleviating pressure on women in particular to pursue riskier employment, thereby supporting women’s labor rights. Brazil has arguably the most well-known program, Bolsa Família, which has provided assistance to millions of families. With women constituting over 90% of the beneficiaries, the program has also had a positive impact on children, “increas[ing] school attendance and grade progression.”
Holistic approaches to the rights of children and their families make sense. One bill recently introduced in Congress advances this approach. Earlier this month, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Rep, Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) introduced the Child Care Access to Resources for Early-learning Act (Child C.A.R.E. Act) H.R. 4524/S. 2539. The legislation would help guarantee affordable, high-quality child care for working families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Guaranteeing access to high-quality child care would simultaneously help advance children’s development while alleviating employment and other economic pressures on working parents.
With sixty-five percent of children under 6 years old living either in families with both parents working or with a single parent working, quality child care is critical both to children and their parents. This bill deserves support, as do other efforts to develop holistic programs that account for the rights of children and their families.
For more on the bill, click here.
From the Association for Childhood Education International, February 2016 e-news:
Notable Books and Reports
Human Rights in Children's Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law, by Jonathan Todres and Sarah Higinbotham, Oxford Press, 2016
The authors have embarked upon a unique and thought-provoking exploration of children’s literature through which readers gain new insights into how stories influence children’s awareness of their rights. This groundbreaking inquiry is a must read for all those interested in learning how literature serves as a vehicle for human rights education.
Originally published here.
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....
[But these films often] propagate and reinforce several critical misunderstandings about trafficking.
For the full article, see The Conversation.
Risa Kaufman, Columbia Human Rights Institute reviews Human Rights in Children's Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law by Jonathan Todres & Sarah Higinbotham (Oxford University Press 2016).
"For those working to bring human rights home, the book offers important and unique insights on the role that children’s literature can play in shaping a culture of human rights, near and far."
The full review is available on Human Rights at Home blog.
Approximately one-quarter of the U.S. population is restricted from voting in elections, entering freely into contracts, and exercising control over important decisions about their own health. These denials would offend the sensibilities of almost anyone if the population in question were adults, but because they are children, little objection is voiced.
Of course, children are different. The developmental nature of childhood necessitates a more nuanced understanding of children’s rights, balancing protection and care with emerging autonomy. Thus, the liberal rights tradition built on the autonomous individual is at times an awkward fit for children’s rights, especially in the case of young children. However, the fact that children’s rights are different does not mean they are non-existent. Rights are inherent. And too many children in the U.S. experience poverty, homelessness, maltreatment, and exploitation. These rights violations demand a response.
While the United States famously continues to be the only country in the world that has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a home-grown effort is underway: a push for a national children’s bill of rights. Last Fall, Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) a House Resolution calling for passage of a Children’s Bill of Rights. The Children’s Bill of Rights, which First Focus—a bipartisan organization that advocates on behalf of children and families—has championed, would establish that every child in the U.S. is entitled to measures that ensure their physical, social, and emotional well-being. It also would establish that children are entitled to an education that would enable them to reach their fullest potential and be prepared as adults to contribute to their families and communities.
The Children’s Bill of Rights would cement our commitment to ensure that children have what all (or nearly all) parents would wish for their children anyway: protection from harm, a relationship with caring parents, access to a safe, quality learning environment, and appropriate health care when needed. It deserves everyone’s support.
So with the New Year, perhaps our collective resolution should be to guarantee that no child is left behind—not in the political slogan-sense of the word, but rather undertaking a genuine commitment to reach every child and secure his or her rights. A national Children’s Bill of Rights would be a good start.
Originally published on Human Rights at Home blog.
How can we build a rights-respecting culture? .... Law is necessary; its mandate can influence and shape behaviors and attitudes. But it isn’t sufficient, in part because law often operates at a distance from the lives of most people, including the most vulnerable and marginalized.....Until human rights education becomes universal, a source much closer to home offers a vibrant set of materials that explore human rights and can help build a rights-respecting environment: children’s literature. Many of the stories children read and have read to them explore and confront important themes about children’s rights and their responsibilities to respect the rights of others. And they do this in a safe, imaginative world that is accessible to children
See more at: OUPblog.
Popular portrayals of human trafficking matter. They shape the prevailing understanding of the issue, which in turn influences the law and policy developed to address human trafficking. This essay examines the interplay between law and culture, specifically cinematic expressions. It reviews three well-known films on human trafficking and explores some of the key misconceptions in each movie. The essay then shows how these misconceptions are prevalent in many law and policy responses to human trafficking. Finally, the author suggests how scholars and advocates might respond more effectively to cinematic (and other media) portrayals of human trafficking.
November 20th is Universal Children's Day. The U.N. established Universal Children's Day in 1954 to create a day of “activity devoted to the promotion of the ideals and objectives of the [U.N.] Charter and the welfare of children of the world.” Worthwhile goals, but as there are now more than 125 international observance days, it is fair to ask whether Universal Children’s Day makes a difference.
Universal Children’s Day presents an opportunity to reflect on both progress made and work still to be done. Since the adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child—the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights and well-being—on November 20, 1989, significant progress has been made on behalf of tens of millions of children around the world. Yet much more work remains. The data on infant and child mortality rates reflects this: globally, the number of deaths of children under five declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to less than 6 million in 2015. That’s vital progress, as many children now realize their most precious right—to life and survival. Yet more than five million young children still die each year, largely due to preventable causes.
But Universal Children’s Day can be much more than a day to raise awareness. It can be a day of action, a launching point for initiatives that accelerate progress on children’s rights and wellbeing. What might that look like? I have three suggestions.
First, if you are President of the United States, send the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the Senate for its advice and consent. The CRC is the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history. There are 196 parties to the treaty; the U.S. is the only country that hasn’t ratified it. The CRC has helped foster progress on law, policy, and programs aimed at improving children’s well-being and securing children’s rights. The U.S. signed the treaty in 1995, but it has taken no action since then (ratification is necessary to make a treaty legally binding).
Under U.S. law, treaty ratification requires to the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Speculation about the level of support in the Senate is understandable, especially after the Senate failed in 2012 to achieve two-thirds support for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (it fell five votes short). But such questions are also premature. The future of the CRC in the United States lies entirely in President Obama’s hands, because the Administration hasn’t even sent the CRC to the Senate for its consideration. On Universal Children’s Day, the President can move the CRC forward by sending it to the Senate.
Second, if you are the CEO of a company, figure out how your company’s expertise or skill set can advance the rights and well-being of children. When the United Arab Emirates faced a problem with trafficking of young boys to serve as camel jockeys (the boys, many as young as five or six years old, were confined in unsanitary conditions, underfed, and often suffered serious injuries in races), it was a Swiss company that helped provide part of the solution. It invented a robot jockey, eliminating the demand for trafficked boys. Of course, technological advances can’t solve everything. Many young boys in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen who might have been trafficked to the UAE remain vulnerable to other harms. But the point is not that the private sector has to do everything. Rather, it’s that innovative solutions are needed, and the private sector can make a difference. UNICEF has been building innovative partnerships to improve health, education, and social protection. Companies across all sectors can support this and other similar work. So Universal Children’s Day is an ideal day for CEOs to figure out how their company’s skillset can advance child well-being.
Third, if you are the head of a household, talk about human rights with your children. Rights are inherent. That means children, like adults, possess them. They are not left to governments to decide whether to grant them to individuals at age eighteen. Parents and caregivers are trustees of those rights as children grow and develop. The CRC recognizes the critical role of parents and families in nineteen provisions of the treaty. Children confront rights issues early – in both their day-to-day lives and in the imaginative spaces created for children, such as their favorite books. Though children, especially young ones, might not talk about rights issues using human rights language, they understand rights issues. Parents and other caregivers can play a critical role in guiding and supporting children as they explore questions about their own rights and their responsibilities to respect the rights of others. Universal Children’s Day offers a wonderful opportunity to start to engage children in a dialogue about rights and to explore ways to make their communities more child rights supportive.
In short, whatever role you play in your family, community, or country, you can use your unique position, knowledge, or skills to advance the rights and well-being of children. By doing so, Universal Children’s Day can be the start of a more supportive approach to children’s rights and child well-being.