All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration.
--UN Declaration of Human Rights
As one reflects on Human Rights Month it is important to think of those who may have the smallest voice of all: CHILDREN! Children are dependent on adults for their well-being and happiness. The decisions that adults make shape the way one's childhood will be. These adults are not just caregivers; they are also policymakers who guide legislation that affects children.
In defining human rights, we have guidelines and goals to keep us focused on what human life is truly meant to be. According to The Center for the Human Rights of Children, human rights are inherent rights we have just by being human; one does not earn them. Human rights give people dignity and the ability to achieve their full potential.
Editor's note: The UN developed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 in order to remind adults that children also have rights, and that they deserve special protections. The U.S. has signed, but not yet ratified, this document, due to concerns by some that the Convention may conflict with the U.S. Constitution, which gives parents the ability to raise their children in a manner they see fit. Others state that the Convention does in fact recognize parents' rights, while ensuring that all children, as humans, are given a universal set of standards that promote their general health and well being. See UNICEF's fact sheet for more information.
Here is some recent legislation that addresses human rights of children:
- H.R. 3357: Child Marriage Violates the Human Rights of Girls Act of 2011, introduced on November 3, 2011 by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), currently in committee. Requires federal agencies to report on activities that prevent human rights for girls.
- H.R. 2730: Strengthening the Child Welfare Response in Human Trafficking Act, introduced on August 1, 2011 by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), currently in committee. Enables State child welfare agencies to prevent human trafficking of children and serve the needs of trafficked children through Title IV-E.
- S. 596: Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victim Support Act, Introduced on March 16, 2011 by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), currently in committee. Provides grants to benefit victims of sex trafficking.
Another population upon which to reflect during Human Rights month is the LGBT community. On December 6, 2011, President Obama released a fact sheet on Working to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Persons Globally. Although this focuses on the global LGBT community, it has relevance for LGBT youth involved in the child welfare system. Our Subject Summary discusses some problems these youth face, particularly in out-of-home care. For example, LGBT youth in foster care often feel victimized, harassed, have inadequate care by a foster care provider and multiple disruptions. These youth often have increased substance abuse issues, mental health problems, truancy and experience homelessness.
Though there has been an increase in legislation surrounding human rights efforts, the bills are on a global scale. What can we do locally to ensure equal human rights that could address the needs of at-risk youth so they are not forgotten? How may enforcing the UN's definition of universal human rights impact child welfare practice?