THE CHILDREN'S RIGHTS PROJECT
Developments in Children's Rights
Abuses that uniquely affect children pose particular challenges for human rights action. Research requires new and specialized methodology; the assessment and development of policy options must address the special circumstances and vulnerabilities of children in need and the problems they confront; and to raise awareness, build coalitions, and bring about change, unique campaigning initiatives are needed. The range of abuses requiring attention include those carried out by governments as well as those in which governments do not exercise due diligence in protecting the rights of the child. Abuses by armed opposition groups are also crucial children's right issues, not least the use of children as soldiers.
Effective work toward an end to the abuses that expressly affect the rights of children requires devising innovative research and advocacy strategies, drawing on strong partnerships with local activists world-wide in their formulation and implementation. A crucial goal of an effective program for the rights of children is to bring international and national children's groups together with the larger human rights community.
In 1997 children continued to be victimized and exploited around the world. In some countries, eight-year-old children were forced to become child soldiers; some were forced to beat or hack other children to death. In other countries, five and six-year-old children worked as bonded laborers, laboring in dreadful conditions for long hours to try to pay off loans made to their families. In many countries, children were routinely beaten by police officers, arbitrarily detained, and sent without due process to appalling institutions that provided no education or rehabilitation, while governments and the general public ignored their distress.
These are just some of the children's rights issues that required research and action for change in 1997. The sections that follow examine some of the unique human rights dimensions of the issues of child labor, child soldiers, street children, and juvenile justice, drawing from the work of Human Rights Watch in these areas over the past year.
My sister is ten years old. Every morning at seven she goes to the bonded labor man, and every night at nine she comes home. He treats her badly; he hits her if he thinks she is working slowly or if she talks to other children he yells at her. He comes looking for her if she is sick and cannot work . All I want is to bring
my sister home. For 600 rupees I can bring her home. But we will never have 600 rupees.
- Lakshmi, a nine-year-old beedi (cigarette) roller in Tamil Nadu in India, in an interview with Human Rights Watch. Six hundred rupees is the equivalent of about U.S. $17.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen worked in developing countries-at least 120 million full time. Sixty-one percent of these were in Asia, 32 percent in Africa, and 7 percent in Latin America. Most working children in rural areas were found in agriculture; urban children worked in trade and services, with fewer in manufacturing, construction and domestic service. Bonded child labor, a form of slavery, is the part of this larger picture upon which Human Rights Watch has focused its efforts.
Children who work long hours, often in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, are exposed to lasting physical and psychological harm. Working at looms, for example, has left children disabled with eye damage, lung disease, stunted growth, and a susceptibility to arthritis as they grow older. They are denied an education and a normal childhood. Some are confined and beaten, reduced to slavery. Some are denied freedom of movement-the right to leave the workplace and go home to their families. Some are even abducted and forced to work.
Child labor is not a simple issue. Even nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and others concerned with child labor are sharply divided on how to proceed, arguing variously that all child labor be eliminated immediately; or that the conditions in which children work be reformed with a view toward ultimate elimination; or even that working at a young age may play an important and positive role in children's lives and in their relations with their families, and that it should be reformed but not abolished.
Simply demanding the discharge of child workers can lead to devastating results for the children. In Bangladesh in 1993, for example, garment manufacturers discharged thousands of child workers, believing that proposed legislation prohibiting the importation into the United States of any product made with child labor had been enacted into law. Subsequent studies found that none of the children discharged ended up in school, that many ended up on the street in prostitution or crime, and that the rest were working in worse conditions and for less pay.
The trade sanction approach-seeking boycotts of employers who use child workers in order to eliminate child labor-is, in its seeming simplicity, appealing; it has been used in the carpet industry and with soccer ball manufacturers. In theory, consumers can discourage child labor by not buying products made by children, and feel content to have played a part in reform. Unfortunately, employers' assurances that they have not used child labor cannot be verified without the presence of independent monitors and it is impossible at present to monitor manufacturing workplaces worldwide. No such mechanisms exist today. At any rate, the ILO estimates that only about 5 percent of child laborers work in export industries and the Bangladesh example shows that there are no guarantees that children affected by a boycott will necessarily be better off.
Conditions of child labor range from that of four-year-olds tied to rug looms to keep them from running away, to seventeen-year-olds helping out on the family farm. In some cases, a child's work can be helpful to him or her and to the family; working and earning can be a positive experience in a child's growing up. This depends largely on the age of the child, the conditions in which the child works, and whether work prevents the child from going to school.
Forced and bonded child labor stand out in that the rights abuses entailed are clear and acute. Tackling these aspects of the complex and troubling child labor issue can serve to draw attention to the plight of bonded and forced child laborers and help to end these appalling practices, while contributing to the debate on the rights dimension of the larger issue of children and work. Both forced labor and bonded labor are viewed in international law as forms of slavery; legislation in many countries forbids these practices, but is frequently unenforced. Forced or bonded child laborers are denied the rights to freedom from slavery, freedom of movement, freedom from violence and abuse, and the right to an education and a normal childhood.
Bonded labor takes place when a family receives an advance payment (sometimes as little as U.S. $15.) to hand a child-boy or girl-over to an employer. In most cases the child cannot work off the debt, nor can the family raise enough money to buy the child back. In some cases, the labor is generational-that is, a child's grandfather or great-grandfather was promised to an employer many years earlier, with the understanding that each generation would provide the employer with a new worker-often with no pay at all. In India alone, 15 million children work as bonded laborers.
Child Labor in India
Bonded child labor exists throughout India, with the vast majority found in industries that produce products for domestic consumption, although bonded children are also to be found laboring in some export industries. Bonded child laborers in six industries in India-silk, beedis (hand-rolled cigarettes), leather, silver, gemstones, and carpets-have been found by Human Rights Watch to involve similar practices, in which the lives and labor of children as young as five were mortgaged to private employers. The children were bound by this form of slavery to work long hours, to perform tasks that resulted in lasting physical injury, in conditions that were often unsafe, for periods that were in effect limited only by the child's capacity to continue completing the tasks required. They lose their health, their right to receive an education, and their futures: many of the children now in bonded servitude have inherited the debts of parents' who themselves lost their childhoods as bonded laborers. Unless broken, this cycle of bondage offers little hope for their own children.
The Indian government's failure to enforce its own laws against bonded labor had condemned millions of children to lives of grueling labor in unsafe conditions, and prevented them from receiving the education to which they were entitled. Pressure to this end, led by Indian nongovernmental organizations, some parts of the Indian judiciary, and supported by international nongovernmental organizations led to some movement toward reform in late 1996 and 1997. A report prepared by Human Rights Watch, in consultation with Indian counterpart organizations, appeared in October 1996. A series of recommendations agreed by these partner organizations centered on the importance of India's implementation of its own laws that outlaw bonded labor, while providing a remedy for injustices done to the children freed from bondage that would look to their future. The principal proposal to this end was that the government provide education, in compensation for, and as a measure of rehabilitation for the wrong done these children and to prevent their return to bondage-and that the guilty employers contribute to this.
The Indian Supreme Court in December 1996 ordered child laborers to be freed from hazardous industries and promoted compulsory education for children through the creation of a trust fund from employers and the government. It also recommended a program of job replacement aimed at providing jobs for adult family members who would replace the freed children. The court also ordered state labor ministries to complete surveys of child labor. In January 1997 the Karnataka State Labor Department raided five establishments that employed child labor and filed a total of twenty-five cases against their owners. Similar raids in Tamil Nadu in April 1997 and in Gudiyatham in November 1996 resulted in the identification of bonded child laborers.
In another promising development, the Karnataka State High Court ruled in 1997 that children in the sericulture (silk) industry must be taken out of work and that their educations must be provided for by employers under the directives of the December Supreme Court ruling. NGOs in partnership with Human Rights Watch said that the decision gave them a useful tool in eradicating child labor in the silk industry.
Research revealed that the silk industry, which was heavily supported by the World Bank, employed many bonded child laborers. The World Bank, embarrassed by this disclosure, chose to include NGO monitoring of projects for child labor as a condition of support on future projects. The bank has now acknowledged that child labor was used in its projects and, in cooperation with the government and nongovernmental organizations, was exploring pilot programs that would remove children from the workplace, rehabilitate them, and provide them with education. It has also begun the process of developing a policy on child labor that could be reflected in its lending agreements with countries.
The Swiss Development Corporation, which also funded sericulture projects in India, convened an NGO working group to develop programs aimed at curbing the use of child labor in Swiss Development Corporation/World Bank funded programs. The working group met regularly to design approaches to alleviate the human rights abuses resulting from child labor in sericulture.
I was good at shooting. I went for several battles in Sudan. The soldiers on the other side would be squatting, but we would stand in a straight line. The commanders were behind us. They would tell us to run straight into the gunfire. The commanders would stay behind and would beat those of us who would not run forward. You would just run forward shooting your gun. . . . I remember the first time I was in the front line. The other side started firing, and the commander ordered us to run towards the bullets. I panicked. I saw others falling down dead around me. The commanders were beating us for not running, for trying to crouch down. They said if we fall down, we would be shot and killed by the soldiers. In Sudan we were fighting the Dinkas, and other Sudanese civilians. I don't know why we were fighting them. We were just ordered to fight.
- Fourteen-year-old boy, abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army, interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Gulu, Uganda in May 1997.
One of the most alarming trends in contemporary armed conflicts is the reliance on children as combatants. An estimated quarter of a million children under the age of eighteen serve as soldiers in government forces or armed opposition groups around the world. Children as young as eight are being forcibly recruited, coerced, or induced to become combatants, targeted to become soldiers because of their unique vulnerability as children. Their emotional and physical immaturity make them particularly malleable and easily susceptible to psychological and physical control. Manipulated by adults, children are drawn into violence that they are too young to resist, while they are too young to appreciate and cope with its consequences.
Children are recruited in a variety of ways. Some are conscripted, others are forcibly recruited, press-ganged or kidnaped and literally dragged from their homes, schools, and villages. Some families offer their children for military service, driven by poverty and hunger, and sometimes children become soldiers simply in order to survive, when their families are dead or the children have become lost or separated from their families. Without other means of support, for some children becoming a soldier may be a means of guaranteeing meals, clothing, and security in troubling times.
Child soldiers perform a variety of duties, ranging from support functions as cooks, porters, messengers and spies, to actually fighting as combatants-due in part to the increased availability of light weight, simple to operate, and inexpensive automatic weapons. Girls are also often forced to provide sexual services to other soldiers. Whether serving in support functions or as combatants, all children are likely to find themselves at times in the midst of heated battle, where their inexperience and physical immaturity make them particularly vulnerable to injury and death.
Even after children are demobilized, their future is often tragically bleak. Effective planning and long-term support for demobilized children is essential for the meaningful reintegration of children into their families and into civilian society. In addition to meeting children's immediate physical, emotional, and psychological needs, children must be equipped with the skills and education necessary in order for them to survive and live productively as civilians. This is true for all children, but especially so for those who remain separated from their families or whose families have been killed or whose whereabouts are unknown. Without families that are able and willing to accept, support and nurture the children upon return, prospects for their future are especially grim without strong government and community support.
Children were used as soldiers by all of the warring factions in Liberia's long civil war, including the National Patriotic Front, led by Charles Taylor, whose election to the presidency in July 1997 appears to have brought an end to the conflict. In 1994, UNICEF estimated that some 10 percent of the 40,000 to 60,000 fighters were children under the age of fifteen. A major challenge in the rebuilding of Liberia will be the rehabilitation of tens of thousands of children- traumatized by their experiences as child soldiers and cut off from any access to education in their formative years-so they can become a part of civil society. In southern Sudan, the long war between the (Muslim) Khartoum government in the north and (non-Muslim) southern secessionist movements continued. The southern rebel movements, in particular the Southern People's Liberation Movement (SPLA), continued their longstanding practice of mass abductions of young boys, for indoctrination and mobilization as child soldiers, and the employment of children in combat. At the same time, the abduction of children by Sudanese government troops and government-backed militia, for child soldiers or sale as slaves, continued to be reported.
The abduction of children by the northern Ugandan opposition group calling itself the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is only the most recent situation of the exploitation of child soldiers to be the object of intensive human rights field research and international attention. Over the past two years, between three and five thousand children have escaped from LRA captivity; a total of between six and ten thousand children were estimated to have been abducted. Former child captives who had managed to escape said that heavily armed LRA rebels abducted children as young as eight from their schools and homes, and forced children to march to rebel base camps in southern Sudan, carrying heavy loads, without rest and with very little food and water. Children who protested, or who could not keep up or attempted to escape, were killed, often by other child captives who were forced to participate in killings as a means of breaking their spirits and initiating them into the ways of the LRA. In Sudan the children received rudimentary military training and were armed and sent into combat. The children were forced to fight against the Ugandan government army and against an armed Sudanese rebel group. They were forced to loot and destroy villages and to abduct other children, during the course of which they often became involved in combat. Abducted girls, in addition to performing duties as servants, cooks, and sometimes fighters, were also given as "wives" to LRA soldiers. The abducted children became virtual slaves; their labor, their bodies, and their lives were all at the disposal of their captors.
Those who were lucky enough to escape or be captured alive by the Ugandan government soldiers faced a harsh reality upon their return to civilian life in Uganda. With many of their family members dead, displaced, unlocatable, or fearful of having the children return home, many children found that they had nowhere to go and no means of supporting themselves. In addition to dealing with severe emotional and psychological trauma, malnourishment, disease and physical injuries suffered while in captivity, many children faced worries about their basic survival- how they would feed, clothe, and shelter themselves.
We didn't sleep at all last night. That's why we're sleeping now, during the day. Night is the most dangerous for us. The police come while we're sleeping and catch you off guard, and grab and hit you. They'll take you to Makadara court and then you'll be sent to remand [detention] for months. Last night there was a big roundup and we had to move so many times to avoid being caught. There was a large group of police in a big lorry, driving around, looking for kids. They're cleaning up the streets now to prepare for the Nairobi International Show [an annual international commerce and trade fair held in Nairobi] .
-Moses, a Nairobi street boy, interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Nairobi, Kenya in September 1996.
Street children throughout the world have been subjected to physical abuse by police or been murdered outright, as governments have treated them as a blight to be eradicated-rather than as children to be nurtured and protected. They were frequently arbitrarily detained by police simply because they were homeless, or charged with vague offenses such as loitering or vagrancy, or petty theft. They have been tortured or beaten by police and often held for long periods in poor conditions. Girls were sometimes sexually abused, coerced into sexual acts, or raped by police. Few advocates have spoken up for these children, and few street children have had family members or concerned individuals willing and able to intervene on their behalf.
The term street children refers to children for whom the street more than their family has become their real home. It includes children who might not necessarily be homeless or without families, but who live in situations where there is no protection, supervision, or direction from responsible adults.
While street children have received a fair amount of national and international public attention, that attention has been focused largely on social, economic and health problems of the children-poverty, lack of education, AIDS, prostitution and substance abuse. With the exception of the massive killings of street children in Brazil and Colombia, often by police, which Human Rights Watch reported in 1994, very little attention has been paid to the constant police violence and abuse from which many children suffer. This often neglected side of street children's lives has been a focus of Human Rights Watch's research and action.
The public view of street children in many countries has been overwhelmingly negative. Police round ups-or even murder-of the children, as means to get them off the street, have had public support. There has been an alarming tendency by some law enforcement personnel and civilians, business proprietors and their private security firms, to view street children as almost sub-human. In several countries, notably Brazil, Bulgaria, and Sudan, the racial, ethnic, or religious identification of street children has played a significant role in their treatment. The disturbing notion of "social-cleansing" has been applied to street children even when they were not distinguished as members of a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group; branded as "anti-social," or demonstrating "anti-social behavior," street children have been viewed with suspicion and fear by many who would simply like to see street children disappear.
In India, Kenya and Guatemala, police violence against street children was pervasive in 1997, and impunity was the norm. The failure of law enforcement bodies promptly and effectively to investigate and prosecute cases of abuses against street children allowed the violence to continue. Establishing police accountability was further hampered by the fact that street children often had no recourse but to complain directly to police about police abuses. The threat of police reprisals against them served as a serious deterrent to any child coming forward to testify or make a complaint against an officer. In Kenya, Human Rights Watch worked with NGOs and street workers to encourage the establishment of a network for documenting and reporting police abuses against street children, and to follow up on individual cases. Yet even in Guatemala, where the organization Casa Alianza has been particularly active in this regard and has filed approximately 300 criminal complaints on behalf of street children, only a handful have resulted in prosecutions. Clearly, even where there are advocates willing and able to assist street children in seeking justice, police accountability and an end to the abuses will not be achieved without the commitment of governments.
Street children make up a large proportion of the children who entered the criminal or juvenile justice systems and who end up being committed, often without due process, to correctional institutions. Street children who entered the criminal or juvenile justice systems often ended up adjudicated "delinquent" and confined in institutions which did little to assist and rehabilitate children, even when optimistically called "schools." While it may sometimes be necessary and in the interests of the child to commit a child to institutional care, the conditions in such institutions should always be aimed at promoting the rehabilitation, education, and welfare of the child, rather than punishment.
Conditions in Children's Institutions
E.B.T.R.. [East Baton Rouge Louisiana Training School], that's a messed up place. The guards will beat you. One of them named Mr. O, he has a thing called a `house party'; if you work on weekends, he wake you up at 5 a.m. He calls you in the back where we take showers and beats you for a whole hour. When we go to mess hall to eat we have to count, and he tells you to come see, then he calls you into the washroom and beats you up and another sergeant comes to beat you. It has only happened two times to me . . . .'New jacks' come in talking, and they beat them up for nothing. This boy at EBR with me, a guard broke his arm with a broom . . . if you tell a counselor, all it's going to do is make it worse.
- Fifteen-year old boy to Human Rights Watch in 1995.
In 1997, throughout the world, children were confined in correctional institutions-sometimes adult prisons, sometimes juvenile "training schools"-in conditions that hindered their development and damaged their health. The general public was rarely concerned about these children, viewing them as "predators," or particularly vicious criminals. Few voices were raised in concern for these children's human rights. Children in confinement rarely received education, vocational training, psychological treatment or other forms or rehabilitation. They were often held in filthy, unsanitary conditions with no privacy. All of these children eventually return to society; failure to prepare them for their return was not only cruel but shortsighted-the social costs were enormous.
Children in confinement have often suffered doubly, having been taken into custody only after having previously suffered abuse at the hands of their families or in the streets they have made their homes. Police violence against street children in Bulgaria, India, Kenya and Guatemala (discussed above) was accompanied by appalling conditions of confinement. In Guatemala, for example, abused or neglected children ( including rape victims), runaways, and others were mixed in with violent offenders. Eight-year old abuse victims were locked up with seventeen-year-old convicted murderers. Children received no formal education, psychological treatment, or vocational training. These conditions contravened international standards as set forth in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 40), a binding treaty to which Guatemala is party, and norms such as the Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, the U.N. Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, and the U.N. Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency.
Shockingly poor conditions for children in correctional institutions existed in the United States as well. State and federal legislators have enacted laws that required trying children in adult courts at younger and younger ages: twelve years old in Colorado, for example. Exaggerated fears of youthful crime led to the incarceration of more and more children and extremely overcrowded institutions in many states, in spite of the FBI's finding that only 7 percent of the juvenile arrests in the U.S. in 1994 were for violent crimes. Legislators were willing to provide money for bricks and mortar, but reluctant to provide money for education, rehabilitation and treatment of children in their care.
Conditions for children in correctional institutions in the three U.S. states of Louisiana, Georgia, and Colorado, have been the object of Human Rights Watch inquiries and reports. There was pervasive brutality by guards against children in Louisiana's four secure institutions. Children were handcuffed and then beaten by guards; children were put in isolation for long periods. These findings, published in 1995, led the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate these four facilities. In 1997 the DOJ issued a damning report: it referred to "life-threatening" abuses, and documented extreme brutality by guards, as well as a failure to protect children from sexual and physical abuse. The DOJ threatened to sue the state, and was negotiating with the state to ensure significant reforms.
In Georgia's children's correctional institutions many children were held in overcrowded, squalid, and unsanitary institutions with inadequate programming. Children were held in four-point restraints, tied by wrists and ankles to a bed, a technique used as a punishment and also for children considered possibly suicidal. Isolation was used as punishment (one child was held this way for sixty-three consecutive days), although international standards forbid isolating children at all. These findings were set out in a 1996 Human Rights Watch report. Again, the DOJ took on the case, and in 1997 opened a formal investigation into the Georgia institutions; that investigation is ongoing.
Research in eight Colorado institutions in 1996 found that virtually every incarceration facility for children was seriously overcrowded (some at two-and-a-half times capacity) and unsafe. The staffs used restraints excessively and punitive segregation; children who could learn and be supervised within the community and presented no threat to public safety were routinely committed; children were sent to facilities out of state, away from their families, or to private contract facilities where the state exercised little control over day-to-day operations or the quality and training of staff. Children complained of chronic hunger; and in several facilities incidents of physical abuse by staff were reported.
The Role of the
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights were the international governmental bodies which were at the forefront of work for children's human rights.
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the treaty body charged with monitoring enforcement of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, was particularly effective, urging governments, for example, to set up juvenile justice systems where none existed. The U.N. secretary-general also acted upon the committee's recommendations that he institute a two-year study on the impact of armed conflict on children. The committee also prevailed upon U.N. member states to set up a working group to draft an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to raise the minimum age for combat-that working group was next to meet in January 1998.
In March 1997 Human Rights Watch submitted to the committee a report on the Czech Republic's denial of citizenship to Roma (Gypsy) children who had spent their entire lives there, thus denying them their right to acquire a nationality, a guarantee set forth in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (Articles 7 and 8), which has been ratified by the Czech Republic. Of particular concern was the situation of orphans who faced possible deportation as a result. The Czech government considered many of them to be Slovak, even if they had been born in the Czech Republic and had no ties to Slovakia.
The two-year U.N. Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children (known as the Machel study for the chair of the group, Graca Machel) concluded its work. Human Rights Watch had assisted by providing information, suggestion, and proposing language for the final report that was presented to the General Assembly in November 1996. A major recommendation of the study was that an expert, responsible directly to the secretary-general, be appointed to follow up on the study's recommendations. That special representative, Olara Otunnu, was appointed in September.
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was active in addressing questions of bonded child labor, child soldiers, police violence against street children, and other issues of concern to nongovernmental organizations working for children's rights. Children's issues to be incorporated into the draft legislation to establish an international criminal court and plan complementary advocacy steps were the object of consultation between Human Rights Watch and UNICEF officials in August 1977. In September, UNICEF head Carol Bellamy issued a press release on the Lord's Resistance Army's treatment of children citing the findings of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
In March 1997 Human Rights Watch submitted to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights a statement on worldwide police violence against street children, and on bonded child labor. The safety and well-being of the two boys identified as the eleventh Panchen Lama-one identified by the Dalai Lama of Tibet and the other identified by the Chinese government-were also raised with the commission. Human Rights Watch findings on police violence and arbitrary detention of children in Guatemala and Kenya were submitted to the U.N. special rapporteur on torture and the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
At the time of writing, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified or acceded to by 191 countries. Only two countries had not ratified the treaty: Somalia, which has no internationally-recognized government, and the United States, which had signed but not ratified the convention. The administration had not forwarded the convention to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the body charged with reviewing the treaty. Jesse Helms, the chair of that committee, has described the convention as a "pernicious document" and continued in 1997 to advise the administration that submitting the treaty for ratification would be fruitless.
In January 1997 the United States continued its obstructionist tactics with the working group charged with drafting an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the minimum age for combat. Almost all the nations that have taken part in the drafting sessions have agreed to raise the age from fifteen to eighteen. The United States stood virtually alone in refusing to accept the age of eighteen; U.S. armed forces permit the enlistment of seventeen-year-olds with their parents' permission.
On a more positive note, the administration in August 1996 called together representatives of the footwear and apparel industries, labor, NGOs and consumer groups to examine the issue of sweatshops. In April 1997, President Clinton announced a partnership agreement among those groups that established a workplace code of conduct that would ensure that clothes and shoes bought in the United States would be made under decent and humane conditions. The code would, among other things, prohibit child labor, forced labor, worker abuse and discrimination, and require a safe and healthy work environment. The code has not yet been implemented.
In September 1997, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman announced that the administration would press the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to combat child labor and eradicate sweatshops in the garment industry.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch
During 1997 Human Rights Watch worked to gather detailed information on violations of children's human rights and carried out advocacy programs to work toward ending the abuses we found. We researched and campaigned to bring to attention the plight of bonded child laborers in India; street children violently attacked by police in India, Guatemala and Kenya; the ill-treatment of children in correctional institutions in those countries, as well as in Colorado in the United States; abuse of unaccompanied minors by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; and the abduction and killing of children by a rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army, in Uganda. Human Rights Watch worked closely with local, national, and international nongovernmental organizations in its research and advocacy, and made regular submissions to the human rights mechanism of the United Nations, in particular the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Bonded Child Labor
In a two-month investigation in India in late 1995 and early 1996, Human Rights Watch researchers talked with more than one hundred bonded child laborers, as well as lawyers, social workers, human rights activists, and government representatives. The fact-finding plan was to look at four industries: three producing for export and one for the domestic market, with a view to using the trade sanction potential as the main advocacy tool. During the investigation, however, our researchers found that the vast majority of children worked in domestic industries;export industries were a small part of the problem. As a result, research and action were redirected toward six industries-five domestic and one export-with findings reported. Meetings with children, NGOs, lawyers, social workers and others, led us to the conclusion that advocating only the firing of child workers -or trade sanctions-could make matters worse. A broader approach was necessary-chiefly to recommend that the Indian government comply with its own constitution and laws that outlaw bonded labor; and that it provide education for those released from servitude, in compensation for, and as a measure of rehabilitation for the wrong done to them and to prevent their return to bondage.
Indian NGOs differed sharply on solutions to the child labor dilemma, but made common cause in contributing to, and supporting the conclusions and recommendations of the report. Moreover, the government of India responded constructively to the findings, and vowed to take steps to end bonded child labor.
Human Rights Watch began its work on child soldiers in 1994 in Liberia and has since then met with scores of children, some as young as nine or ten, who were used as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. Research in southern Sudan documented the plight of boys abducted by rebel groups and government troops and militia and identified means to end their use as child soldiers in 1995, in a practice that continues. In 1996, we documented the use of child soldiers in eight countries; and, in a separate report in 1997 we reported research findings and recommendations on the use of child soldiers in Burma.
In 1997, a team of Human Rights Watch researchers traveled to northern Uganda to investigate the abduction of children for military purposes by a brutal armed opposition group calling itself the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The abduction, torture, rape and killing of abducted children was documented in a September 1997 report: this report was launched jointly with an Amnesty International report on abuses by the Lord's Resistance Army.
Human Rights Watch worked to encourage the Ugandan government to take greater steps to protect children from abductions, to secure the release of abducted children, and to actively provide for the support, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society of children upon their return. The international community, in turn, was pressed to provide assistance to all children affected by the armed conflict. There was little progress in mobilizing pressure on the LRA itself to halt its abuse of children.
Documenting children's experiences as military "recruits" around the world has been a means towards ending the horrific practice of using children to fight adult wars. Towards that end, the Children's Rights Project also continued work in support of the drafting of an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would raise the minimum age for soldiering from fifteen to eighteen. Research was also undertaken to consider the impact that proposed draft legislation to establish an international criminal court could have on furthering the protection of children affected by armed conflicts, including child soldiers. This included work to try to influence the drafting of that legislation to take into account the interests and needs of children affected by armed conflict.
Human Rights Watch informed the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in September 1997 of our findings concerning the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and its pattern of abduction and killing of children, as well as the Ugandan government's failure effectively to protect and rehabilitate children who have escaped from the LRA.
In 1997, Human Rights Watch documented police violence against street children in India, Kenya and Guatemala, and pressed for greater accountability for police who perpetrated abuses against the children . This research, the findings of which were set out in three reports, highlighted the severity of the abuses in these countries, at times rising to deadly levels, and the lack of accountability by police for their actions.
Human Rights Watch findings on police violence and arbitrary detention of children in Guatemala and Kenya were submitted to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and to its special rapporteur on torture and Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Conditions in Children's Institutions
The correctional institutions in which children are confined, sometimes with adults, present a range of human rights abuses requiring intensive research and programmatic remedies. Conditions in these institutions in the United States and in other regions have been the object of research by Human Rights Watch since the inception of its Children's Rights Project. In 1994 we reported on the inhumane conditions in which children were illegally confined in adult lockups (jails) in Jamaica; the report contributed to the government's releasing some of the children and ordering the development of alternative facilities.
Fact-finding in eight Colorado juvenile correctional institutions was completed in 1996. Officials in Colorado were extremely open, permitting access to all institutions and children and providing Human Rights Watch with damning internal audits. The findings of the inquiry, published in 1997, were widely covered by the press in Colorado, while contributing to the founding of a local group of lawyers, social workers and others committed to follow up on the investigation's findings and recommendations and to work toward improving the lot of Colorado children in conflict with the law.
In January 1997, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child met with Bulgarian government representatives and cited the Human Rights Watch's submission on shortcomings in the juvenile justice system in its discussions. The committee asked the government to take steps previously sought by Human Rights Watch, including measures to train police, and to provide safeguards to prevent discrimination against minority children, to protect children in "boarding institutions" and "Labor Education Schools" (both are correctional institutions), and to reform the juvenile justice system.
Relevant Human Rights Watch reports:
The Scars of Death: Children Abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda , 9/97 High Country Lockup: Children in Confinement in Colorado, 8/97
Guatemala's Forgotten Children: Police Violence and Arbitrary Detention, 7/97
Juvenile Injustice: Police Abuse and Detention of Street Children in Kenya, 6/97
Slipping Through the Cracks: Unaccompanied Children Detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 4/97
Burma: Children's Rights and the Rule of Law, 1/97
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