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Experts: US High-Level Office for Children is Critical for Children’s Rights

Authors: Miriam Abaya, Nandita Bajaj, Warren Binford, Michelle Blake, Carter Dillard, James Dold, Hope Ferdowsian, Wendy Lazarus, Reid Maki, Shantel Meek, Jerry Milner, Jennifer Nagda, Vidya Kumar Ramanathan, Nevena Vuckovic Sahovic, and Jonathan Todres

 

In a recent series of workshops to address the lack of leadership for child rights in the United States, our participants identified the need for a high-level federal entity to oversee children’s issues.

The United States remains the only country in the world that has failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).[1] Adopted 32 years ago, the CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world.

Currently, the United States falls short on various social and environmental determinants of child health and well-being, including poverty, health care access, nutrition, homelessness, and separation from family.[2] An analysis of the federal budget shows that children receive an inadequate share of government funds. For example, among the 37 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the seventh highest child poverty rate and ranks second to last in family benefit spending.[3] Despite improvements in food security and housing stability for some children in the early 2000s, the COVID-19 pandemic and related recession have resulted in an increased number of children experiencing food and housing insecurity and declines in mental health while exacerbating long-standing racial, ethnic, and economic disparities.[4] Child uninsured rates increased for the first time in a decade, and Hispanic children, already nearly twice as likely as white children to be uninsured, have been disproportionately impacted.[5] Systemic racism and other forms of discrimination worsen outcomes for children of color.

Despite these troubling trends, we believe that it’s never too late for the United States to advance children’s rights and well-being at home and abroad. The workshops considered avenues to integrate the principles of the CRC across all our sectors, including health care, public health, immigration, child welfare, juvenile justice, early learning, education, labor, and family planning. One priority rose above the rest: the creation of a high-level authority dedicated to children.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has encouraged States parties to establish institutions with the authority to protect children’s rights, both as independent entities and as part of the government structure.[6] Many countries have high level leadership positions focused on children’s rights and well-being, from Ombuds to state departments.[7] These entities serve as advocates for children’s interests both within and independent of government, and research indicates they’re successful in making children more visible and central in policymaking.[8]

Accordingly, our workshop developed three options which would meet the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and promote children’s rights. The first option, the White House Office for Children, requires only the political will of the President, and so can be created quickly, bypassing congressional gridlock.

The second option is Cabinet leadership and/or a department for children. Creating a department for children would require legislation but solve a problem many at the workshops identified—children’s issues are buried within and siloed across many departments. With the exception of the Department of Education, federal offices dedicated to children typically are positioned at lower levels: the Children’s Bureau within Health and Human Services, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the Department of Justice, the Office on Children in Adversity within the Agency for International Development, and so on. This option could bring all these efforts together under one coordinated umbrella, finally giving children’s interests a literal seat at the executive decision-making table.

The third option is an Independent Children’s Commissioner, similar to positions in Australia, Ireland, Jamaica, and other countries, as well as independent commissions in the United States like the Civil Rights Commission.[9] It would oversee children’s interests in both the executive and legislative branches, assessing policy proposals for their impact on children and pursuing research on various areas of children’s rights and well-being. Importantly, this entity would be a bridge between children and policymakers—using surveys, consultations, advisory boards, and complaints mechanisms to hear directly from children and youth about their needs, hopes, and desires.

 

Children need resources and advocacy embedded in a dedicated federal authority to elevate their interests to the same level as other issues that have cabinet leadership and whole departments dedicated to them. These authorities would help mainstream consideration of children’s interests in policy, such as through a children’s agenda or child impact assessments. They would promote coordination across federal agencies and with Congress so that policies and programs intentionally and methodically address the comprehensive needs of children. Lastly and importantly, children would finally have a voice in decisions that impact them. These authorities could operationalize the CRC’s foundational principles: children’s best interests, respect for children’s views, non-discrimination, and children’s right to survival and development.

Policymakers need political will to create, fund, and staff a high-level authority. The government will need to implement other system changes to advance children’s rights and well-being, such as the creation of a children’s agenda, consistent and sufficient funding for children’s programs, and ongoing evaluations to ensure government policies, practices, and programs are in children’s best interests. Experts in child development, child advocates, caregivers and parents, and children and youth will need coordinated advocacy and unified messaging. The creation of a high-level federal authority would be an important first step and could jumpstart all the policies that must follow to make children’s rights and well-being a genuine priority.

Miriam Abaya, JD, Vice President for Immigration and Children’s Rights, First Focus on Children, Washington, DC, email: miriama@firstfocus.org.

Nandita Bajaj, MEd, Executive Director, Population Balance, Saint Paul, MN; Faculty, Institute for Humane Education/Antioch University, Surry, ME.

Warren Binford, JD, Professor of Pediatrics and W.H. Lea for Justice Endowed Chair in Pediatric Law, Ethics & Policy, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO.

Michelle Blake, MA, Director of Policy, Phoenix Zones Initiative, Albuquerque, NM.

Carter Dillard, JD, Policy Advisor, Fair Start Movement, Los Angeles, CA.

James Dold, CEO and Founder, Human Rights for Kids, Washington, DC.

Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH, FACP, FACPM, President and CEO, Phoenix Zones Initiative, Albuquerque, NM; Associate Professor of Medicine, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, NM; Medical Expert, Physicians for Human Rights, New York, NY.

Wendy Lazarus, Co-Founder and Director, Kids Impact Initiative, Los Angeles, CA.

Reid Maki, Director of Child Labor Advocacy, National Consumers League and Coordinator, Child Labor Coalition, Washington, DC.

Shantel Meek, PhD, Professor of Practice and Founding Director, Children’s Equity Project, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

Jerry Milner, DSW, Director, Family Integrity & Justice Works, Santa Rosa Beach, FL.

Jennifer Nagda, JD, Policy Director, Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, Washington, DC.

Vidya Kumar Ramanathan, MD, MPH, FAAP, Pediatrician and Medical Director, University of Michigan Asylum Collaborative, Ann Arbor, MI; Physician Expert, Physicians for Human Rights, New York, NY.

Nevena Vuckovic Sahovic, LLM, PhD, Professor of Law, CRC Committee member 2003-2009; President, Child Rights Centre, Belgrade, Serbia.

Jonathan Todres, JD, Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta, GA.

[This piece originally appeared in the Health and Human Rights Journal, March 10, 2022]

References

[1] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ratification status for the CRC-Convention on the Rights of the Child (Geneva: Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights). Available at https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?Treaty=CRC&Lang=en.

[2] UNICEF, Worlds of influence: Understanding what shapes child well-being in rich countries, (Florence: UNICEF, 2020), p. 10. Available at https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/Report-Card-16-Worlds-of-Influence-child-wellbeing.pdf.

[3] First Focus on Children, Children’s Budget 2020, First Focus on Children (Washington DC: First Focus on Children, 2020). Available at https://firstfocus.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/ChildrensBudget2020.pdf.

[4] E. Robinson and K. Hamm, 5 ways the Trump Administration’s policies have harmed children (Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, October 2020). Available at https://www.americanprogress.org/article/5-ways-trump-administrations-policies-harmed-children/; US Department of Health and Human Services, US Surgeon General, Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory (2021). Available at https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-youth-mental-health-advisory.pdf; Aubrey Edwards-Luce et al., Key stats on the effect of COVID-19 on children, (Washington, DC: First Focus on Children, November 19, 2020). Available at https://firstfocus.org/resources/key-stats-on-the-effect-of-covid-19-on-kids; UNICEF, Preventing a lost decade: Urgent action to reverse the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people, (New York: UNICEF, December 2021). Available at https://www.unicef.org/reports/unicef-75-preventing-a-lost-decade.

[5] J. Alker and A. Corcoran, Children’s uninsured rate rises by largest annual jump in more than a decade, (Washington, DC: Center for Children and Families, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, October 2020). Available at https://ccf.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/ACS-Uninsured-Kids-2020_10-06-edit-3.pdf; Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2021, (Washington, DC). Available at https://www.childstats.gov/pdf/ac2021/ac_21.pdf.

[6] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 5 (2003): General Measures of Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. No. CRC/GC/2003/5 (2003), para. 39, 65.

[7] Ibid. para. 39.

[8] UNICEF, Summary report: Study on the impact of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Florence: UNICEF, 2004). Available at https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/CRC_Impact_summaryreport.pdf. V. Sedletzki, Championing children’s rights: A global study of independent human rights institutions for children – summary report (Florence: UNICEF, October 2012). Available at https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/championing2_eng.pdf.

[9] Child Rights International Network, Global list of national human rights institutions specifically for children (London: Child Rights International Network). Available at https://archive.crin.org/en/library/publications/global-list-national-human-rights-institutions-specifically-children.html. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Our Mission (Washington, DC: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights). Available at https://www.usccr.gov/about/mission.

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Boy Jockeys in Indonesia Risk Injury and Death

By Reid Maki, National Consumers League and Child Labor Coalition

I didn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw the  New York Times headline: “For Indonesia’s Child Jockeys, Time to Retire at 10, After 5 years of Racing.”  The story, written and photographed by Adam Dean, revealed that child jockeys in Indonesia’s island of Sumbawa as young as 5 are racing horses and getting hurt in the process. The cultural practice is entrenched and boy jockeys are getting younger each year. “In the late ‘90s, jockeys were usually aged from about 10 to 14 years old, but then we found the lighter jockeys to be faster, and now they are aged from about 6 to 10, Fahrir H.M. Noer, a deputy chairman of one of the races, told reporter Dean.

 

As an advocate who has followed child labor closely for 20 years, I was not surprised that young children might do something dangerous. More than one million children around the world are engaged in mining, which is extremely hazardous. We’ve seen photos of children in the Philippines who mine under water, connected to very precarious breathing tubes. Children work with toxic chemicals in leather tanning facilities; they help break apart giant ships. Nearly half the 152 million children trapped in child labor perform hazardous child labor.

 

In this case, however, I was surprised that that children, 5 to 10, could be asked to control animals so large and fast—a task that requires well developed athletic skills. Dean’s stunning photos confirm that this phenomenon is happening:

 

 

The Child Labor Coalition has been posting these photos on Twitter (@ChildLaborCLC) and there has been almost no response from our 17,000 followers.… Read the rest

CARE Act’s 24 Co-sponsors in the 116th Congress

The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety was introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard on June 20, 2019 with 24 original cosponsors (bold). For the goals of the CARE Act, click here.

 

Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44)

Karen Bass (CA-37)

Tony Cárdenas (CA-29)

David Cicilline (RI-01)

Yvette Clarke (NY-09)

Rosa DeLauro (CT-03)

Ruben Gallego (AZ-07)

Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)

Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)

Barbara Lee (CA-13)

Andy Levin (MI-09)

Alan S. Lowenthal (CA-47)

Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08)

James P. McGovern (MA-02)

Gwen Moore (WI-04)

Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32)

Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)

Mark Pocan (WI-02)

Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (MP)

Janice D. Schakowsky (IL-09)

Adam B. Schiff (CA-28)

José E. Serrano (NY-15)

Albio Sires (NJ-08)

Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24)Read the rest

127 Groups Ask EPA Not to Reverse Ban on Pesticide Application by Children

Dear Administrator Pruitt:

The undersigned organizations write to oppose any changes by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to the requirements in the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (“WPS”) and Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule (CPA).

Over 15 years ago, an EPA report stated that “pesticide poisoning in the United States remains under-recognized and under-treated…despite the ubiquity of pesticides in our homes, workplaces, and communities, and despite the considerable potential for pesticide-related illnesses and injury.” Farmworkers have one of the highest rates of chemical exposures among U.S. workers and they suffer acute pesticide poisoning every year through occupational exposures and pesticide drift. Studies have shown that agricultural workers suffer serious short- and long-term health effects from exposure to pesticides. The WPS and CPA rules provide vital protections from exposure to toxic pesticides for hired farmworkers, pesticide applicators, their families and the general public in communities across the United States. In revising these rules, the EPA recognized that the weight of evidence suggests that the new requirements, “will result in long-term health benefits to agricultural workers, pesticide handlers,” and “to certified and noncertified applicators, as well as to the public and the environment.”

After more than a decade of stakeholder input and analysis, the EPA revised the WPS and CPA rule to prevent injury and illness to the children, women and men who work around pesticides in agriculture, or who come into contact with pesticides in other settings. EPA found that the new safeguards are necessary to address the known dangers associated with pesticide use. The WPS applies to hired workers and pesticide handlers who labor in farms, fields, nurseries, greenhouses and forests. The CPA rule governs the training and certification requirements of workers who apply Restricted Use Pesticides (“RUPs”) in a variety of settings, including homes, schools, hospitals, as well as agricultural and industrial establishments. RUPs are some of the most toxic and dangerous pesticides on the market.

 

We are concerned that the EPA may weaken critical safeguards meant to protect agricultural workers, the public, and the environment. Among the many important provisions in the rules, the Agency has stated its intent to reconsider the minimum age protections that prohibit children from applying pesticides, the right of farmworkers to access pesticide application information through a designated representative, and protections for bystanders through “application exclusion zones,” which require that an applicator suspend pesticide application if “an unprotected/non-trained person” enters the area around the application equipment.

Undermining these important protections cannot be justified. We urge you to preserve the existing protections and to move forward with full implementation and enforcement.

Respectfully,

127 child, faith, agricultural, health, labor, human rights, consumer and environmental groups, including the Child Labor Coalition have signed the letter.

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