United States Tobacco Group Implements Child Labor Protections

Alex Proimos, Flickr
Alex Proimos, Flickr

Human Rights Watch reports that the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina has implemented a policy that children under sixteen are prohibited from working on tobacco farms. A previous Human Rights Watch report documented how children working long hours on tobacco farms, suffered symptoms similar to nicotine poisoning, specifically “dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vomiting.” United States labor laws allow children under twelve to work on farms without parental permission, and at sixteen children are allowed to work on farms labeled hazardous by the Department of Labor. Human Rights Watch encourages the Obama administration to ban children from working conditions that are detrimental to their health.

To Learn More:

Human Rights Watch Reports on New Bill’s Attempt to Divert Youth from Maximum Security Prisons

Derek Key, via flickr
Derek Key, via flickr

On September 27, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to conduct individualized reviews of all those entering prison under 22 years of age to determine whether they could be sent to a lower security facility.  Human Rights Watch asserts that affording these vulnerable youth extra protection by diverting them from maximum security prisons will keep them separated from the most hardened prisoners in the criminal justice system and reduce the number of assaults, rapes, and incidents of gang violence involving youth.

To learn more about this topic:

Human Rights of Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean

Versión en español disponible aquí

Commissioners: Jose de Jesus Orosco Henriquez, Rosa Maria Ortiz, Emilio Alvarez Icaza L.

Petitioners: Regional office of UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean (Officina Regional de UNICEF para Amèrica latina e Caribe)

State: Regional

Petitioners representing the Regional office of UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean asserted, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), that the deprivation of rights of adolescent girls in the region continues to be of concern.

At the October 28 hearing, UNICEF provided the Commissioners with a description of the situation of girls in Latin America and the Caribbean, including statistical data and critiques of what UNICEF views as bad practices of some member states. The Petitioners divided their concerns for the rights of girls in the region into three categories: education, violence, and pregnancy among adolescents.

Photo Credit: Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos

In general, girls are at an educational disadvantage in school. The Petitioners revealed that more than 109 million girls in the region have access to schooling, but raised concerns to the Commission about the availability of education for indigenous children and the stereotyping experienced by girls in schools. According to UNICEF, only 82 percent of indigenous children complete primary school, with the percentage dropping to 70 percent for those living in rural areas. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of girls within the indigenous population drop out of school due to issues such as pregnancy or child domestic work. The resulting lack of education leads to lower employment opportunities for women, especially those of indigenous populations. Stereotyping also discourages girls from pursuing an education. Teachers often assume that boys are naturally intelligent in areas such as math, while girls are solely thought to be capable of academic success in reading and only if they work hard. This leads to teachers’ subconsciously spending less time and effort teaching girls at school.

The Petitioners also addressed the effects of violence in both schools and homes faced by girls in the region.  Many girls face bullying by teachers and fellow students, which encourages absenteeism and abandonment of educational opportunities. Furthermore, UNICEF asserted that girls are more vulnerable to domestic violence and femicide.  Domestic violence is usually accompanied by sexual violence inflicted by men in the home, and this, according to the Petitioners, often leads to early pregnancies.

Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest rate of girls having sex before age 15 in the world. The reported age of first pregnancies has decreased dramatically in the region, with some regions reporting pregnancies in ten-year-old girls. Due to this early sexual activity, girls are more susceptible to HIV and AIDS, with infection rates ranging from 17 to 59 percent across the region. These problems, according to Petitioners, are a result of the States’ lack of sexual education available to adolescents in the region and by some States‘ turning a blind eye to early marriages and unions. UNICEF asserts that many States do not adhere to Conventions, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and also refuse to bring their domestic legislation into compliance. For example, many states do not have laws that forbid marriage before the age of 18. Petitioners requested that the Commission urge States to adopt laws to protect young girls who are vulnerable to many of these issues.

The Commissioners expressed their concerns at the depravation of many essential rights to which girls in the region are entitled. Commissioner Rosa Maria Ortiz shared with UNICEF the Commission’s work on the subject, revealing that there are numerous reports on these issues currently underway.  These include reports on institutionalized boys and girls and on the role of girls in organized crime. The Commissioners shared similar frustrations with UNICEF concerning the ‘excuse’ of old traditions that some States use to ignore the necessities of sexual education and new legislation. Commissioner Ortiz suggested collaboration when addressing issues relating to women and girls, as women’s issues sometimes overshadow the issues concerning the rights of girls. The Commission pledged to take all of the Petitioners’ recommendations into consideration and promised that this will be the start of a dialogue to further protect the rights of girls in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Situation of the Right to Life of Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada

Petitioners during the hearing. Photo by Eddie Arrossi, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Commissioners: Dinah Shelton, José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Tracy Robinson, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine

Petitioners: Native Women´s Association of Canada (NWAC), Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA)

Country: Canada

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) heard testimony at a hearing on March 12, 2013, regarding the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls in Canada. Michèle Audette, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), began the petitioners’ presentation with an overview of the situation of indigenous women in the country. Ms. Audette said the government has failed to address the high rate of violence against indigenous women in Canada, for which there are two sources: the failure of the Canadian police and justice system to provide aboriginal women and girls with equal protection under the law, and longstanding economic and social disadvantages rooted in Canada’s colonial history that make indigenous women and girls vulnerable to violence. International human rights bodies including the United Nations Committee Against Torture and the Committee on Rights of the Child have urged Canada to take immediate action.

Sharon McIvor, a Thompson Indian from British Columbia, raised the issues of police failure to protect aboriginal women and girls and of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) abuses, citing a recent Human Rights Watch report. While the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) is preparing to launch a public interest investigation into the abuses, Ms. McIvor stated that the CPC is perceived to lack credibility and independent oversight and that most CPC investigations are carried out by the police themselves. She highlighted the need for a national public commission of inquiry to investigate the abuses, stating that it would be preferable to the recently approved parliamentary committee, which is by nature a political body without the independence of a public commission.

The petitioners stated that there was a clear need for intervention by international human rights bodies and urged Canada to invite the Commission to visit the country. The petitioners also requested that the Commission issue a separate press release urging Canada to establish a national public inquiry, develop a comprehensive strategy to address the issue, and  cooperate fully with international and regional human rights procedures.

Canadian government representatives affirmed that Canada takes the petitioners’ allegations seriously and that the government has taken specific actions to address the issue, including funding NWAC’s initial research into violence against indigenous women. The representatives outlined the government’s efforts to prevent future violence, with programs like the Family Violence Prevention Program, which funds First Nations’ efforts to address family violence on-reserve, as well as Project Even-Handed and Project E-PANA, which are dedicated to investigating the disappearances of women in Vancouver and in the North District and Central Region of British Columbia, respectively.

Keith Smith of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada discussed measures Canada has taken to address the ongoing socio-economic conditions affecting aboriginal communities, including engaging with First Nations members. The government is committed to programs to improve conditions for urban indigenous communities and enacting a First Nations education act by 2014 to invest one million U.S. dollars to help ensure readiness for the new First Nations education system. He acknowledged that much remains to be done, but invited the Commission to take the government’s initiatives into account.

Commissioners Rose-Marie Antoine, Tracy Robinson, and Dinah Shelton expressed concern over the apparent disconnect between the situation the petitioners described, which is one of increased tension between indigenous communities and the Canadian government and ongoing deficiencies on the part of the government to address violence against aboriginal women and girls, and the initiatives the Canada delegation described. Commissioners Antoine and Robinson endorsed establishing a public commission of inquiry.

Commissioner Shelton noted that the Commission had submitted a request to do onsite visits in 2012 and was still waiting for a response. Representatives for Canada assured the Commission that its request was under active consideration. Commissioner Shelton asked whether provincial commissions of inquiry exist that might eventually lead to a national commission and whether any national mechanisms exist to train indigenous communities and local police on how to respond to violence. The petitioners replied that the British Columbian government had refused to fund a provincial inquiry and that some community training had been established in Quebec, but that no national training programs were in place. Commissioner Shelton also inquired if there was evidence that disappearances of indigenous women were related to trafficking. The petitioners noted that the Canadian government had refused to fund research on trafficking of indigenous women and girls. The government responded that at this time it feels its efforts and funding would be better spent on concrete actions instead of additional research.

Commissioner Robinson asked whether a mechanism exists to evaluate the success of government programs and whether reconciliation mechanisms were available to native communities. Commissioner Orozco asked the parties to send national level statistics of human rights abuses against indigenous women and girls. He also asked for information on mechanisms that had effectively addressed abuses and if there was any formula to guarantee the future security of indigenous women. The parties will respond to these questions in writing

Human Rights of Children Affected by Gang Violence in El Salvador

146th Period of Sessions, Commission Hearing. Photo by Michaela Spero (November 4, 2012).

Commissioners: Tracy Robinson, Rodrigo Escobar Gil, Rosa María Ortiz

Petitioners: Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos de El Salvador (PDDH), Red para la Infancia y Adolescencia de El Salvador (RIA), Red Latinoamericana y Caribeña por los Derechos de la Niñez (REDLAMYC)

State: El Salvador

Gangs have plagued El Salvador since the end of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992. The resultant violence causes thousands of disappearances per year and has led El Salvador to have the second highest murder rate in the world. Equally troubling is the effect of the gang culture on Salvadoran children. Gangs recruit new members by visiting schoolyards and intimidating children, and many end up joining to avoid becoming a victim of the violence. The majority of the gangs’ members are young men between fifteen and twenty-five years of age. Recently, the government took steps to curb the violence, including executing a truce between the major gangs in March 2012 and enacting a law criminalizing gang membership in September 2012.

Prior hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have discussed the disappearances of individuals during the civil war, but the topic of gang violence and its effects on the children of El Salvador had not yet been specifically addressed. On November 4, 2012, the Inter-American Commission held a thematic hearing to address the measures taken by the government of El Salvador to reduce the impact of gangs on the rights of children. Georgina Villaeta, from the Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos de El Salvador (PDDH), acknowledged the positive impacts of the truce on the reduction of violence and the creation of peace zones for schools, but asserted that change should come from cooperation between the government and society, not negotiations with those responsible for the problem. Neris Belloso, from the Jurídico Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos, discussed the measures adopted by the government in attempts to reduce violence and emphasized the importance of preventative measures. Lucy Luna, from the Red para la Infancia y Adolescencia de El Salvador (RIA) and Red Latinoamericana y Caribeña por los Derechos de la Niñez (REDLAMYC), presented the central human rights impacted by the gangs of El Salvador: education, health, and freedom from the oppression of violence in their daily lives.

The petitioners requested that the Commission require transparency from El Salvador with regard to the measures being taken by the government and armed forces. They asked that the State provide a clear presentation of its plans for the future as well as undertake investigations into the disappearances and provide an explanation of its findings.

The State of El Salvador was represented by Ambassador Luis Menendez, accompanied by César Martínez and Arena Ortéga, Counselors and Alternative Representatives to the Organization of American States (OAS). The Ambassador responded first, noting that El Salvador has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. He commented that the prevalence of gangs in El Salvador is a result of the county’s high rate of poverty and the limited opportunities for children raised in this environment. He then described the various measures proposed and undertaken by the government, expressing the importance of human rights education for youth.

Commissioner Rosa María Ortiz, Rapporteur for El Salvador and Rapporteur for the Rights of the Child, spoke about the challenges that El Salvador faces in attempting to reduce violence in the country. She inquired as to the results of the truce as well as the effect of the criminalization of gang membership, and went on to express her belief that effecting change will require putting greater effort into the plans already in place. Commissioner Tracy Robinson asked the petitioners for statistics on the murder rate in El Salvador since the truce between the government and the gangs. Addressing the State, she inquired as to the investigations undertaken by the government and the resolutions and punishments. She expressed her particular concern with regard to sexual crimes against young women.

The petitioners responded that the truce was carried out in great secrecy, noting that the murder rate has decreased from twelve to between five and 6.5 murders per day since several gang leaders were moved from a maximum security prison to one with much lighter security. Speaking for the State, the Ambassador stated that the proposals have been noted and conveyed hope for a continued discussion in San Salvador.

Commissioner Robinson thanked the petitioners for their presentation and the State for its commitment to provide further information. She expressed the Commission’s dedication to a resolution and encouraged continued communication between the parties.