Center for the Human Rights of Children Symposium
The Center for the Human Rights of Children (CHRC) at Loyola University Chicago School of Law is pleased to present the Fall 2020 Symposium: Children’s Rights in the Time of COVID-19. This virtual Symposium explores the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of children’s rights. As an interdisciplinary center committed to protecting and advancing the human rights of children, the CHRC strives to honor and advance the principles derived from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)—supporting the proposition that the rights of children are intersectional, multi-disciplinary and must be considered as a whole.
The Symposium examines the impact of COVID on several inherent rights of children including the right to safety: life, survival and development, the right to education, the right to participation and to be heard, and the right to play. In doing so, we hope to illustrate the intersectional nature of the pandemic and other systemic issues affecting children, including—especially—racism and a child’s right to enjoy these norms free from discrimination, but also including the intersectional nature of poverty, access to health care, and a child’s migration status. It is our goal to center the rights of children as an intentional, informative framework for a post-pandemic world. The policy recommendations and advocacy efforts contained in the essays and presentations below will help to provide a framework for recovery that can produce an equitable, sustainable, and just future for all children.
The Right to Safety: Life, Survival and Development
“COVID-19 & Youth Detention- The Global Pandemic Exposes the Need for Alternatives”
Nadia Woods, 3L Loyola University Chicago School of Law; Kelly Barrett, 1L Loyola University Chicago School of Law; Professor Mary Bird, Director of Public Service Programs, Loyola University Chicago School of Law
International human rights law prohibits detention of children except as a last resort. While the United States slowly shifts philosophically toward community-based programming related to children and juvenile justice, young people continue to be detained in facilities nationwide. A large body of research has found that community-based alternatives to detention are often cheaper and have better outcomes, including lower recidivism rates. Community organizing and activism around juvenile justice in Chicago has gradually decreased the population of Cook County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (“JTDC”), despite the efforts of elected officials. During Covid,-19, detainees are more susceptible to infection due to congregate settings, close proximity, and underlying medical conditions. As infection rates amongst both detainees and JTDC employees rises, the amount of young people in JTDC remains problematic. Considering the economic cost to detain each young person, the developmental costs to the young people detained, and the various life-threatening issues surrounding Covid-19, it is imperative that we develop alternatives to detention.
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“COVID-19’s Nefarious Toll on Migrant Children: Executive Overreach and a Framework to Prevent Abuse”
Malachy Schrobilgen, J.D. Candidate, Loyola University Chicago School of Law; Sarah J. Diaz, J.D., L.L.M., Associate Director Center for the Human Rights of Children, Loyola University of Chicago School of Law.
Under the guise of a pandemic response, the Trump Administration in March of 2020 ordered the summary expulsion of virtually all undocumented migrant individuals who have sought entry at our southern border—including unaccompanied migrant children. These children arrive to the United States alone, in search of safety. The order not only contravenes international and domestic law designed to protect migrant children, but it has also led to the development of abusive government practices that defy basic principles of child welfare (i.e., disappearing children who are apprehended at the border and expelling them to unknown conditions, housing children in unlicensed hotels under guard from private security contractors, and even returning children to unsafe third countries). Such an abuse of executive emergency power calls for the immediate development of a legal framework to prevent executive overreach, and to increase accountability and transparency within the immigration system especially as it regards the most vulnerable population within it—unaccompanied migrant children.
“Child Welfare, Reasonable Efforts, and COVID-19”
Lilia Valdez, 3L, Loyola University Chicago School of Law; Professor Anita Weinberg, Director, ChildLaw Policy Institute, Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
What do “reasonable efforts” look like in the child welfare system during a pandemic? COVID-19 has amplified and exacerbated the inequities in society and the challenges to human service systems that are intended to respond to the needs of marginalized groups of people and communities. The child welfare system is no exception. Across the country, and certainly within Illinois, African American families are disproportionately represented within the child welfare system. They also have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Like many states across the country, the Illinois child welfare system is already stretched thin and is not equipped to respond to the pandemic’s impact on children and their families. Significant numbers of families and children already in the child welfare system may be experiencing myriad stressors – job loss, food insecurity, unstable housing, inadequate digital access, elevated vulnerability to COVID-19 infection, and trauma. They also are dependent on a system that is overwhelmed by the pandemic and unable to provide in-person contact between children and their parents, parenting classes, substance abuse treatment, or counseling. The impact of this on children is profound. Without the opportunity for in-person family contact, or to receive needed services, there is a significant possibility that children will not be returned to their families of origin.
The Right to Equitable Education
“Addressing the Cultural and Non-Academic Educational Rights of American Indian Students in Minnesota during COVID-19”
Sadie Hart, MJ Program, Loyola University Chicago School of Law; edited by Professor Bruce A. Boyer, Director Civitas ChildLaw Clinic, Loyola University Chicago School of Law
The COVID-19 pandemic presents unique challenges for American Indian students in Minnesota, including their right to cultural education and the non-academic services they typically receive at school. These services have been overlooked as schools focus on providing socially distant education during the pandemic, but they are vital for American Indian children. Mental health access is limited at a time when the pandemic is triggering historical trauma for American Indian communities who have a painful history with infectious diseases and government control. American Indian cultures are based on community and that connection has been hindered due to social distancing. American Indian children’s access to cultural activities, such as powwows and traditional group activities, has been limited. Providing services to Minnesota’s American Indian students to address these issues requires the partnership of schools, tribal governments, and American Indian communities. These partnerships must depend heavily on the expertise of American Indian communities, their tribal customs, and their ways of healing and caring for their children. Relying on these cultural practices that center on children and the incorporation of traditional learning opportunities will create a sustainable system for students to access their educational and cultural needs during and after the pandemic.
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“The Right to Equitable Education for Refugee and Immigrant Youth During COVID-19”
Adrian Medina; Lauren Tan, B.A.; Farah Harb; Saadia Elahi, B.A.; Maria Afanador Ardila, B.S.; Kimberly Mis; Hadia Zarzour, M.A.; Amatul Husna; Sham Aldos; Enas Aldakkak; Emily Miller, B.S.; Roxanna Flores Toussaint, M.A.; Susana Sosa, B.S.; Yvita Bustos, M.A.; Sarah Jolie, B.A.; and Professor Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, PhD, Loyola University of Chicago Department of Psychology
Refugee and immigrant children often face obstacles to equitable education which are compounded by migration and resettlement stressors. As students shift to remote learning amidst a global pandemic, limitations on equitable education have been intensified. Due to language barriers, many refugee and immigrant parents are unable to support their children’s remote education, while lack of information, confusion, and mistrust have widened the communication gap between refugee and immigrant parents and school personnel. Additionally, many immigrant families are low-income and have limited access to the internet and/or devices necessary to support online learning. Remote learning and separation from the school environment place immigrant and refugee youth at an even greater risk for social-emotional and academic detriment and may be forced to deprioritize education.
“Global Challenges and Opportunities in Ensuring the Right to Education in COVID Times”
Professor Noah W. Sobe, Cultural and Educational Policy Studies, Loyola University Chicago School of Education, Senior Project Officer, UNESCO*
Clear evidence has emerged that COVID-19 disruptions to education have had significant adverse effects on ensuring the right to education. The global health pandemic has also pointedly shown that despite progress made in recent decades, structural discrimination and rising inequalities
remain significant barriers to fully realizing the right to education as it is laid out in UDHR Article 26 and established as legally binding in the 1960 Convention against Discrimination in Education and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As education systems around the globe increasingly rely on digital platforms, COVID-19 also forces us to reckon with the ways that states are increasingly sharing the responsibility for educational provision, decision making and financing with a wide range of non-state actors. While this essay details many challenges, it also argues that a number of opportunities have also begun to emerge. These include a clearer understanding of the ways the right to education is interlinked with other children’s rights, for example around culture and health. The pandemic response also invites a conversation about broadening the right to education and to address issues of connectivity, especially as connectivity also increasingly impacts the right to have access to and enjoy cultural resources and the right to benefit from scientific progress and its application – both of which help to enable learners to develop and become free and autonomous.
*The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not represent UNESCO and do not commit the organization.
The Right to Participate and to Be Heard
“Law Under Curious Minds Youth Advocates: A Black and Latinx Youth Centered Virtual Public Investigation of the Impact of COVID-19 in Chicago”
Kevin M. Miller, Heather Watson, Nikki Malazarte, Chana Matthews, Enneseca Miller, Tiera McGary, Tamia-Eve Wronowski, LaDarrien Prince, and Professor Katherine Tyson McCrea, PhD, Empowering Counseling Program, Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work
Morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 disproportionately affects Black and Latinx families in Chicago and nationwide undermining children’s human rights to health, education, and a standard of living adequate for children's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development, as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This essay highlights how youth of color are also positioned to exercise their human right to be heard and to improve conditions for their communities when they can be community researchers and activists. The Empowering Counseling Program (ECP) virtually engaged forty-six youth of color (ages 14-19) in Chicago as co-researchers in a participatory public investigation of their communities during the pandemic. The ECP’s rights-based after school and summer program, Law Under Curious Minds: Youth Advocates (LUCM), engaged youth in creating and administering a COVID-19 community needs assessment of citizens’ experiences and needs, co-analyzing data, co-creating action oriented projects, and co-presenting findings and projects to stakeholders and policymakers in a community forum. The implications of the ECP’s public investigation for the human rights of children are many. First, Black and Latinx youth are intent on exercising their right to be heard and are motivated towards positive social change for their communities. Second, a rights-based model of programming may be replicated, promoting youths’ participation, engagement, and benefit from after school and summer programs. Third, this form of assessment can lead to improved connections between families and resources, as well as policy improvements. Finally, this public investigation demonstrates that youth are capable allies in remedying human rights violations, highlighting the value of research orientations that center youth voice in human rights discussions.
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The Right to Play
“Children’s Right to Play in Times of COVID”
Jennifer Babisak, 4L, Loyola University Chicago School of Law; edited by Professor Diane C. Geraghty, Director Civitas ChildLaw Center, Loyola University Chicago School of Law
Children have suffered under the COVID-19 pandemic in a myriad of ways, from health and safety to the loss of loved ones. In the discussion of children’s rights impacted by the pandemic, one right is often overlooked: the right to play. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes “the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” Lockdowns and the closure of schools, parks, museums, and extracurricular activities has altered children’s recreational landscape. Such deprivation of recreation impacts poor children and children of color most because they are the most likely to live in an environment without private green space or other access to play. The increased impacts of COVID that children of color and children living in poverty experience demand greater outlets for play to support physical, mental, and emotional health. Without compromising public health, communities can prioritize children’s right to play through creative, socially distanced solutions, including those discussed in this paper.
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