The Center for Law, Health and Society represents the culmination of research, educational and community outreach initiatives developed in the health law field at Georgia State University. For more information about the center, visit clhs.law.gsu.edu.


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Professor Jonathan Todres Interviews with News Whistle about His New Book

todres finalProfessor Jonathan Todres, expert on children’s rights, recently published his new book “Human Rights in Children’s Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law.” Co-authored by Sarah Higinbotham, the book points to popular childhood literary works, exemplifying concepts of children’s rights.

In the News Whistle March 28 article “Life, Liberty, and Literature: Our Q&A with Law Professor Jonathan Todres,” Todres spoke on his book, the progression of children’s rights, and his remaining optimism toward future developments, both domestically and internationally. Todres explained, “[c]hildren’s literature is a wonderful imaginative world that gives children a way to confront heavy issues in a safe space.” He noted, however, that they “took care to be clear in the book that [they] do not think this wonderful imaginative space should simply be co-opted to advance adults’ agenda,” but acknowledged that human rights dialogue already occurs there. “We can debate about specific content of human rights. But when you teach kids about their rights and their responsibilities to respect others’ rights, we see positive outcomes.”

Jonathan Todres is a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law and a member of the Center for Law, Health & Society. His research focuses on a range of issues related to children’s rights and child well-being, including child trafficking and related forms of exploitation.

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Professor Jonathan Todres Quoted on Children’s Rights and International Law

todres finalProfessor Jonathan Todres shared his thoughts on international law and children’s rights in Oxford University Press’s March 28 blog “Addressing New Frontiers in International Law.”  “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,” Todres noted.  In explaining why children should be viewed as partners in the human rights movement, Todres concluded, “children’s rights…are essential to building just societies.”


Jonathan Todres
is a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law and a member of the Center for Law, Health & Society. His research focuses on a range of issues related to children’s rights and child well-being, including child trafficking and related forms of exploitation.


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Prof. Todres Quoted in ABA Article Calling for US to Ratify Convention on the Rights of the Child

todres finalWith Somalia and South Sudan ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 2015, the United States is the last of the 197 United Nations member states that has not yet ratified the CRC. Despite being involved in the original negotiations to develop it under President Ronald Reagan’s administration and President Bill Clinton signing it, and despite ratifying optional protocols on human trafficking and the role of children in armed conflict, the U.S. government has not yet moved forward on ratifying the CRC.

The American Bar Association and its Center for Children and the Law have long supported ratification of the CRC. The ABA House of Delegates adopted a recommendation in 1991 supporting ratification of the CRC in principle. In 2014 the ABA renewed efforts, calling on the President Barrack Obama’s administration to submit the CRC to the Senate for consideration.

Advocates of the CRC feel the time is right to push again for ratification. Opponents argue that this treaty could infringe on parental rights, and that treaties more generally threaten American sovereignty. Professor Jonathan Todres, quoted in the March issue of the ABA Journal‘s article “ABA adds its voice to calls for the U.S. to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said that the CRC has been used as an unfortunate political pawn to the detriment of children in need. However, “[t]he language of the treaty and evidence from other countries’ implementation of the CRC demonstrate that the CRC can be a wonderful tool that supports children and their families,” he said.

Jonathan Todres is a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law and a member of the Center for Law, Health & Society. His research focuses on a range of issues related to children’s rights and child well-being, including child trafficking and related forms of exploitation.


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Professor Todres Blogs About Children’s Rights and Access to Quality Childcare

todres finalEmphasizing that early childhood is a crucial developmental stage in a child’s life, Professor Jonathan Todres urges that “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.” In his March 2 blog, “Supporting Families’ Efforts to Advance Children’s Rights and Well-Being,” Todres addresses the struggle many working families face in finding affordable, safe, and education-rich childcare for children younger than school age.  In support of the recently introduced Child C.A.R.E. Act, which helps guarantee access to high-quality child care to low-income families, Todres argues that guaranteeing access to high-quality child care “would simultaneously help advance children’s development while alleviating employment and other economic pressures on working parents.” More on the Child C.A.R.E. Act bill may be found here.

Jonathan Todres is a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law and a member of the Center for Law, Health & Society. His research focuses on a range of issues related to children’s rights and child well-being, including child trafficking and related forms of exploitation.

 


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Movies and myths about human trafficking

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

By Jonathan Todres

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.

The Taken series, in which Liam Neeson plays an ex-CIA operative with “a very particular set of skills,” is arguably the best-known example. In the first installment, Neeson has 96 hours to rescue his daughter from an Albanian sex-trafficking ring in Paris that abducts young girls, drugs them and sells them to Middle Eastern sheikhs. He succeeds, of course, in supporting-cast-obliterating fashion.

In Human Trafficking, an earlier made-for-television movie, Mira Sorvino plays a New York City police officer who goes undercover to take down a Russian trafficking ring.

And in The Whistleblower, which is based on a true story, Rachel Weisz plays an American working as a UN peacekeeper in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina who uncovers a trafficking operation.

These movies have helped raise awareness of human trafficking. But there’s one problem. As my research shows, Taken, The Whistleblower and Human Trafficking propagate and reinforce several critical misunderstandings about trafficking.

Movie myths

Rachel Weisz in The Whistleblower.
20th Century Fox

All three films portray only sex trafficking of young women and girls. The movies depict Americans as heroes, and “others” – Albanians, Arabs, Russians – as villains. The Whistleblower offers a more nuanced picture with both an American hero and some Americans involved in the exploitation. Finally, in true Hollywood fashion, rescue represents the end of the story.

A viewer might leave these movies unaware that there is more than trafficking for sex, that labor trafficking also exists and that it occurs in numerous industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to restaurants and hair salons. Viewers might not know that men, women, boys, girls and transgendered individuals are all targets of human trafficking.

Viewers might also be misled into thinking that the problem is a foreign one, leaving them unaware of the role Americans play in human trafficking. In fact, some traffickers are American, and the U.S. drives demand for inexpensive goods like clothes and electronics, some of which is made possible by the work of exploited individuals.

Finally, moviegoers might have no idea that rescue is really only the beginning of an even more challenging process – assisting and supporting survivors in their recovery and reintegration into their communities.

Too much dramatic license

Why does this matter? This is Hollywood, after all. We know that James Bond does not represent the reality of life as a spy, despite the more battered, world-weary spin Daniel Craig has given him recently. But most of us don’t engage in espionage after a spy movie ends.

Human trafficking is different. As President Obama highlighted in a recent presidential proclamation declaring January national slavery and human trafficking prevention month, every sector of society can play a role in combating this problem.

The president echoed what many scholars and advocates like myself have emphasized: a comprehensive, multisector response is needed to prevent human trafficking.

This effort requires that people know not just that human trafficking exists, but exactly what it is.

As with other violent crime, only a fraction of the population has any personal experience with human trafficking. Few individuals have talked with a survivor about his or her experiences, and not many have read the existing research on human trafficking. Most of the public garners much of what they know about human trafficking from media portrayals of the issue. This includes some individuals now working on anti-trafficking initiatives. I’ve listened to scholars and advocates at conferences praise these movies without mentioning their inaccuracies. It seems even the savviest among us believe more from the media than we discard.

Impact on responses

Maggie Grace in Taken.
20th Century Fox

If popular portrayals of human trafficking shape what advocates and the general population understand about the issue, then they will also shape what people advocate for. And federal and state law and policy on human trafficking reflect many of the same distortions found in films on human trafficking.

Beginning with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 and continuing with dozens of laws adopted at the federal and state level since then, the law on human trafficking has centered primarily on criminal law, reflecting the “rescue” narrative. Such law enforcement is necessary but not sufficient. Other critical components – prevention and services for survivors – have received much less in the way of resources.

The depiction of young women and girls trafficked for sex as the quintessential victims has shaped law enforcement efforts, leading to a prioritization of combating sex trafficking of women and girls over labor trafficking or the plight of exploited men, boys and transgendered individuals.

When media portrayals show only sex trafficking of women and girls, the risk is that labor trafficking and other vulnerable and exploited individuals do not receive the attention they need. In fact, research by the International Labor Organization and other organizations suggests that the number of labor trafficking victims may well exceed the number of sex trafficking victims.

In addition, current anti-trafficking law and advocacy continues to pay too little attention to the root causes of this exploitation. The lack of emphasis on prevention reflects the popular notions that “rescue” is what is needed. It also indicates an unwillingness to acknowledge that mainstream U.S. culture and consumerism contribute to the demand for the goods and services provided by exploited individuals. In contrast to Hollywood portrayals, the reality is that the food we eat and the clothes we wear may well be produced by trafficked labor.

What we can do

Of course, Hollywood is not going to stop making action movies. But we can do a better job of calling attention to the disconnect between cinematic portrayals of human trafficking and the reality of the problem. The desire to keep celebrities engaged in particular social issues is understandable given the attention they can bring to an issue, but it should not mean remaining silent in the face of inaccurate or unbalanced portrayals.

Ultimately, it is critical that policymakers and advocates have access to and rely on evidence-based research and survivor perspectives on human trafficking so that they can develop responses that are likely to make a difference.

todres finalJonathan Todres is a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law and a member of the Center for Law, Health & Society. His research focuses on a range of issues related to children’s rights and child well-being, including child trafficking and related forms of exploitation.

 


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We need a Children’s Bill of Rights, blogs Prof. Todres

todres finalIn his first blog post of 2016 at Human Rights at Home, Professor Jonathan Todres discusses the need for a Children’s Bill of Rights. He points out that the U.S. is the only country in the world that has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Last fall, representatives introduced a House Resolution calling for passage of the Children’s Bill of Rights, championed by the bi-partisan group First Focus. Todres calls for a collective New Year’s Resolution, to support this bill of rights which 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.”

Jonathan Todres is a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law and a member of the Center for Law, Health & Society. His research focuses on a range of issues related to children’s rights and child well-being, including child trafficking and related forms of exploitation. He is the co-author of Human Rights in Children’s Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law


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“Building a Culture of Human Rights,” new blog post by Prof. Todres

This is the environmental shot with jonathan todresThis article was originally posted on December 15, 2015 at Oxford University Press’s OUPblog and is also posted on Georgia State University College of Law’s website

Every December, Human Rights Day challenges us to confront the most pressing human rights crises. This year, many in government and civil society will be focused on the Syrian refugee crisis and other urgent human rights situations. The seemingly endless stream of human rights emergencies demands immediate action. At some point, however, we also have to attend to the longer-term project of building a culture of human rights. Otherwise we’ll find ourselves in an endless loop of pursuing perpetrators of abuses and trying to aid those harmed.

How can we build a rights-respecting culture? International human rights law is part of that project. The legal mandate it creates provides a cornerstone. The set of norms established by human rights law, if fully realized, would secure rights for all individuals. Yet the human rights movement has struggled to figure out how to ensure that these international norms make a difference in the day-to-day lives of ordinary citizens on all continents.

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.

But research on human rights education provides a reason for optimism. It shows that human rights education produces a range of positive outcomes for children, including an improved sense of self-worth, increased empathy, and a reduction in bullying and harmful behaviors in classrooms. And children who learn about human rights demonstrate a better understanding of the connections between rights and responsibilities.

The literary world provides children a space to learn about and understand human rights.

Yet only a small percentage of the population will study human rights law or attend primary or secondary schools that offer a human rights curriculum.

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.

Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who! allows children to explore participation rights, the right to life and survival, and the right to be free from discrimination. Horton the elephant is arguably the quintessential human rights defender, risking his own life to save the Whos, a tiny people living on a speck of dust. But ultimately it is only when the “smallest of the small” makes his voice heard that the Whos are saved from destruction. Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand lets children consider identity rights issues through the story of a bull who prefers to sit and smell the flowers rather than fight. And the world of Harry Potter invites children to consider important questions about children’s rights and just punishment.

Not all children’s stories are rights-fulfilling. Many books suggest that children have no voice and few rights. But even these stories offer children the opportunity to consider the impact of the denial of these rights.

Both positive and negative portrayals of rights in children’s books, as well as in oral story-telling traditions, offer the youngest members of the human family opportunities to consider their own rights, the rights of others, and their roles in their communities. They expose children to the full panoply of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

In short, the literary world provides children a space to learn about and understand human rights, instilling knowledge they can then apply in their own lives. In doing so, children’s stories can help foster a rights-respecting generation that might succeed in forging greater respect for human rights in the future.

A word of caution is appropriate. Using children’s literature to teach rights runs the risk of interfering with children’s freedom to explore imaginative worlds. Yet we know children’s literature has long been used to convey lessons. Victorian-era stories taught children to be obedient—“seen and not heard.” In this regard, a story that explores human rights themes is different only in the lesson, not its methods. Many stories do not teach, but simply allow children the opportunity to explore rights issues on their terms. As important, our own research has found that many children readily identify rights themes without being prompted by adults.

The world of children’s literature might seem removed from current human rights crises. Indeed, many children confront threats to their rights in their everyday existence. But the long-term goals of human rights cannot be deferred indefinitely. Addressing immediate needs is critical, but we must also commit to the larger project of building a human rights culture.

As Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, once explained:

“Where after all, do human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

The books children read and have read to them are an integral part of those small places, close to home, where human rights emerge.

Jonathan Todres is a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law and a member of the Center for Law, Health & Society. His research focuses on a range of issues related to children’s rights and child well-being, including child trafficking and related forms of exploitation. He is the co-author of Human Rights in Children’s Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law