Monday, November 19, 2018
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 well-being 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.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Next week is Yom Kippur (Sundown, October 11 to Sundown, October 12), the Day of Atonement on the Jewish calendar. As tradition has it, atoning on Yom Kippur will address only sins against God. For transgressions against other individuals, Jews are obligated to seek forgiveness from and reconciliation with those people first. Yom Kippur also marks the end of the High Holidays, and thus offers the prospects of a fresh start and an opportunity to do better than we did the year before.
While I’m well aware that President Obama is not Jewish (or Muslim—are people still really talking about that?), I’d like to invite him to participate, at least in spirit. And I think the timing is appropriate, because Yom Kippur falls approximately 100 days from the end of the Obama Presidency—leaving one final window of opportunity for the president while still in the Oval Office.
On his inauguration in 2009, newly-elected President Obama boldly proclaimed that “[a]s for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Human rights advocates hailed his election and speech as the dawn of a new, promising era of progress on human rights. The past eight years haven’t necessarily lived up to expectations.
So, with little more than 100 days left in the Obama Presidency, I have two hopes. First is that he is reflecting on shortcomings (e.g., no human rights treaty was ratified while he was in office; even President George W. Bush managed to achieve ratification of two human rights treaties). Second is that he will use these final 100 days to do better. Yes, I know he faces significant opposition in the Senate (the Senate’s failure to approve the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was deeply disappointing). But at the risk of sounding naïve, if you aren’t willing to try to advance the ball on human rights when holding arguably the most powerful position in the world, when is the right time?
The “To Do List” for human rights is lengthy. But here are three options for President Obama that can be done within 100 days:
- End the federal government practice of confining migrant children in detention centers. No six-year-old who has fled violence in search of safety should be “welcomed” by being incarcerated. A recent essay by Wendy Cervantes at First Focus sheds light on this practice.
- Ban child labor in tobacco production. The adverse health consequences of tobacco use are well known. Less well-known is the harm inflicted on those who work in tobacco fields, particularly children. In August 2016, 110 organizations called on President Obama to protect children from “acute nicotine poisoning and other health and safety hazards faced by children working in US tobacco fields.” (click here for the letter to President Obama from the Child Labor Coalition and other organizations).
- 3. Send the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the Senate. The U.S. is now the only country in the world that has not ratified the CRC. This is the closest any human rights treaty has come to universal acceptance. Since the U.S. signed the treaty in 1995, no President has taken further action. No one can prevent President Obama from forwarding the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent. Are there sufficient votes in the Senate now for ratification? Probably not. Might some Senators object? Probably. But it’s President Obama’s decision, and sending the treaty to the Senate would be a step forward.
These three opportunities all have two important things in common: First, President Obama has the power to act on all of these. Second, all three steps would help move the United States in direction of ensuring the rights and well-being of children. It’s time for action.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Although the United States stands alone as the only country that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), it has ratified two of the three Optional Protocols to the CRC – one on sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography and the other on the involvement of children in armed conflict. And the time has come for the U.S. government to be reviewed again under the Optional Protocols. The formal session with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.S. government is set for May 2017. While that might seem far away, the U.S. government has already submitted its report (available here) on both optional protocols to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. For NGOs working on these issues, the deadline for alternative reports is July 1, and the Pre-Sessional Working Group with NGO representatives is scheduled for October 3-7, 2016. ECPAT-USA is again coordinating the lead alternative report under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children. Similar efforts are underway on the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict.
As noted in a previous blog, the review process presents a critical opportunity to advance law, policy, and programs aimed at ensuring children’s rights and well-being.
As the process evolves and, ultimately, as post-review action gets underway, I will continue to provide updates.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Editors' Note: Following up on yesterday's post, Risa Kaufman discusses the applicable human rights law as well as the procedural posture of JEFM v. Lynch
A federal immigration judge may see no problem with requiring a three year old to represent herself against the government's efforts to deport her. But international human rights law and many jurisdictions in Europe and elsewhere in the world recognize the stark injustice in such a scenario. An amicus brief filed this week by Human Rights Watch in JEFM v. Lynch asks the 9th Circuit to do the same.
The plaintiff children in JEFM, many of whom are fleeing violence and other dangerous situations in their Central American home countries, have brought suit against the United States, claiming that the lack of a right to appointed counsel for indigent children in immigration proceedings violates the Constitution’s due process protections, as well as the federal Immigration and Nationality Act. Last year, ruling on jurisdictional grounds, the federal district court denied the government’s motion to dismiss the constitutional claims, and granted its motion to dismiss the statutory claims.
Both sides have appealed the district court’s order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Human Rights Watch brief draws on international human rights law and foreign law to underscore the importance of preserving the federal district court as a forum for the plaintiff children’s claims. The brief was authored by Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute and the law firm of Covington & Burling, LLP, with the assistance of students in the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic.
Numerous international human rights treaties recognize the necessity of appointed counsel for ensuring due process and equal justice for migrant children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination all provide support for the right to appointed legal representation for indigent children in immigration proceedings. Inter-American Court of Human Rights has likewise made clear that the right to appointed counsel for children in immigration proceedings is a key component of due process under the American Convention and the American Declaration.
Human rights experts have expressed particular concern over the lack of a right to appointed counsel for children in U.S. immigration proceedings. In 2014, during its review of U.S. compliance with the CAT, the Committee Against Torture specifically recommended that the U.S. guarantee access to counsel for minors seeking asylum in the U.S. Likewise, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination recommended that the U.S. “guarantee access to legal representation in all immigration-related matters.” And last year, after visiting the U.S. southern border to monitor the human rights situation of unaccompanied minors and families, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the U.S. to provide free legal aid for children in immigration proceedings.
Foreign law also lends support for the right to appointed counsel for indigent children in immigration proceedings. The European Court of Human Rights has increasingly recognized the right to appointed counsel when necessary to prevent the inequality of arms. And the European Parliament recently called on member states to provide free legal representatives to unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings.
Last year, over 28,000 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras crossed into the United States at the southwest boarder. A study by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that many children migrating from these Central American countries reported that they were escaping violence and persecution and would face harm if forced to return home.
There is growing recognition of the injustice in forcing these children to fend for themselves in complicated and high-stakes immigration court proceedings. As articulated in the Human Rights Watch amicus brief filed this week, international human rights and foreign law lend strong support to this understanding, and compels a re-evaluation of access to justice in the United States.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
In Human Rights in Children’s Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law, Todres and Higinbotham identify the ways in which human rights discourse appears in children’s literature, and how children’s books thus teach children about their rights and the right of others. The authors conclude that children’s literature is an “important cultural transmitter” of human rights concepts to children. Todres, a law professor at Georgia State University School of Law (and a co-editor of this Blog), and Higinbotham, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology, base their conclusions, in part, on a study they conducted with school aged children. In the study, they found that kids readily identify and grasp human rights messages contained in the books they read.
The book is prompted by Article 42 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which contains the obligation to make children’s rights “widely known,” as well as social science research indicating that human rights education has a positive impact on learning, civic engagement, and social behavior.
Throughout the book, the authors explore numerous examples of the ways in which both classic and more recent children’s books convey core concepts contained in the CRC. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! and Yertle the Turtle are examined for the important lessons they impart about dignity, the universality of rights, and children’s right to participation. The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, illustrates the ways in which children’s literature can transmit and teach key human rights principles of best interests of the child and non-discrimination. The book contains counter examples, as well, including Cinderella and Curious George.
Interdisciplinary in its approach, Human Rights in Children’s Literature weaves together children’s rights law, children’s literature, human rights theory, human rights education and research, and literary theory. Chapters within the book are organized around the core rights and principles contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including participation rights, non-discrimination, right to family and identity, children’s civil and political rights, the best interests of the child, and the right to life, survival, and development, among others.
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.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
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.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
The U.S. government recently announced a consultation with civil society on November 12 in conjunction with its next periodic report under the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2002 and is preparing to submit its third report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This is an important, if often undervalued, opportunity to advance the rights and well-being of children in the United States.
I have been privileged to participate in both prior reviews of the United States under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, including presenting testimony to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child during its session with NGOs in advance of its meeting with the government. Those experiences show that the reporting process offers three significant opportunities for human rights advocates. First, the Committee takes seriously the views of NGOs. Often the questions, or List of Issues, that the Committee poses to a government reflects gaps highlighted by NGOs in their alternative reports or in their testimony to the Committee. Second, many of the Concluding Observations and recommendations for the government come from NGO input. Finally, the post-review process offers a critical opportunity to use the recommendations in advocacy at home. In prior reviews under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, ECPAT-USA has coordinated the lead alternative report (full disclosure: I serve as child rights advisor to ECPAT-USA). Following both prior reviews, NGOs organized briefing sessions in various cities in the United States. After 2008 review of the United States, several NGO representatives (including ECPAT-USA representatives and me) spoke at congressional briefings in the Senate and House of Representatives. Subsequent advocacy spurred the introduction of a bill that became the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008. The law addressed some of the recommendations that emerged out of the reporting process (that process is described in more detail here). While that law isn’t perfect, it shows the potential that exists in the reporting process – the process can be successfully leveraged to advance human rights.
ECPAT-USA will again be coordinating the lead alternative report under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children. And again, there is an opportunity to further advance law and policy aimed at securing children’s rights and well-being.
Simply put, the reporting process is a built-in monitoring and evaluation mechanism for human rights. While the substantive provisions of human rights law are essential and provide the basis for our work, the procedural benefits of human rights treaties – notably the reporting process – should not be overlooked.