The Young Center Appears Before United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva

September 5, 2012

On June 18th, Maria Woltjen, Director of the Young Center Clinic, appeared before the United  Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, Switzerland, to testify about the sale of children for labor. University of Chicago Clinic students Angus Ni and Yulia Fradkin worked on this project which involved researching international law and drafting the report that was submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Committee on the Rights of the Child is the international body that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Although the United States has not ratified the CRC, it is a party to the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC), and is required to report on compliance every five years. Non-governmental organizations, like the Young Center, have the opportunity to submit alternative reports (also known as shadow reports) commenting on what the government has done to satisfy its obligations under the treaty. In partnership with the Loyola Center for the Human Rights of Children, the Young Center filed its report focused on what more should be done to combat the sale of children for labor in the United States.

The Young Center often serves as Child Advocate for children who’ve been transported to the United States carrying substantial debt. They will have to work for years to repay the debt, with no possibility of opting out and no safe way home. It is often extremely difficult to obtain protection for these children. Many view these children as merely smuggled, and therefore complicit and not eligible for protection; the Young Center disagrees.

Often the children work in small rural restaurants in the U.S. where no one is investigating for legal violations. Other children work in agriculture for which the labor laws are less stringent. Many children from China, for example, carry debts in excess of $80,000. Children from Central America may owe much less - around, for example, $3,000,  - but they are just as fearful of retribution if they don’t work to repay the debt. The Young Center asked the Committee on the Rights of the Child to urge the U.S. to: improve labor standards as applied to child labor; improve protections for children entering the U.S. for the purpose of labor trafficking; and to incorporate a best interests standard into the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child received the Young Center testimony in a closed session. Committee members introduced themselves—members hail from Switzerland, Ghana, Chile, Peru, Norway, Spain, Syria, Monaco, Slovakia, Hungary, Tunisia, Uganda, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Egypt. Each of the Young Center representatives gave a brief five minute presentation, after which the Committee members peppered them with questions. Instead of answering the questions immediately, the chair gave the Young Center fifteen minutes to caucus with the other NGO’s after which they returned and answered the questions in presentation format. During this portion of the testimony, the Committee members were permitted to ask and the Young Center representatives were permitted to answer follow-up questions. The Young Center received many questions about child labor in agriculture in the United States as well as favorable comments about the Obama administration’s recent announcement on deferred action for DREAM Act-eligible youth. The Committee will submit follow up questions to the United States and allow six months to receive a reply. At that point, the Young Center will once again have an opportunity to submit an alternative report. In January 2013, representatives from the United States government will meet with the Committee at which time the Committee will issue its recommendations. The Young Center Clinic will continue to be engaged in this project.

caption for photo: Palais Wilson, Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva