Tag Archives: human rights

“No Duty More Important”: Why We Must Treat Children’s Rights as Fundamental Human Rights



By Julia Mancini (Intern, APA Office on Children, Youth and Families)

“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.” — Kofi Annan


Where exactly do human rights begin? Sunday, December 10th, 2017 is International Human Rights Day. #HumanRightsDay is celebrated in conjunction with the anniversary of the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will reach its 70th anniversary this coming year. The Declaration seeks to uplift individuals from all walks of life across the world and protect our kinship and dignity as human beings. However, how far does this kinship and dignity extend?


We cannot protect the rights of all people if we do not respect the rights of the youngest and most vulnerable. In November of 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It acknowledges young people as change agents of society and holders of rights1.


Some might consider children bystanders in their own lives, directed always by the decisions caregivers and governments make for them. In considering children active agents of society, we respect their dignity and give them a voice to speak on the difficult situations they face so that we might better support them.


Adults often have legal, developmental, social, and monetary advantage over children. It is not mistaken that adults support children in ways they are not able to do for themselves. The goal is not to take away caregivers’ rights but to instead retain the balance between the rights of children and the rights of families3.


What exactly do those rights include? According to the UN, all children have a right to:

  • a safe physical environment,
  • security,
  • food,
  • shelter,
  • freedom of expression,
  • freedom of association,
  • self-determination,
  • knowledge, and
  • work.


On International Human Rights Day, let’s remember that children’s rights are human rights. If we assume the capacity of a child, we often underestimate the contribution they offer to our society and submit their autonomy to a third party or adult with more power. It is important to balance this agency with protection from harm for those who cannot protect themselves2. This pertains especially to the most vulnerable children throughout the world – the ones who often face the most adversity and discrimination, namely disabled, displaced, impoverished, and minority children. It is important that when we speak of the rights of marginalized groups throughout the world, we also give a voice to children within these groups who might be forgotten or exploited.


The American Psychological Association has endorsed the principles and spirit of the CRC and thus recognized the importance of the rights of children. This issue is important because, as a society, if we were more aware of what children are entitled to as citizens of the world, there would be opportunity for social justice changes that could have an inter-generational and global impact.


It is, of course, essential that adults take a primary role in ensuring their children’s well-being, but it is our international responsibility to ensure that governments and caregivers are doing this in a way that fits the child’s best interests. If we understand and advocate for children’s rights in the present, there will be a better future for not only these individuals, but on an international level as well.


Join the conversation on social media:

  • Celebrate children’s rights and International Human Rights Day by telling the world that “children’s right are human rights” on your social media. Use the hashtags #HumanRightsDay and #childdevelopment.
  • Take part in our December 12 Twitter chat on the vital role scientists can play in promoting human rights. It will take place at 2 PM (ET) in partnership with the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Human Rights Coalition.



1Ruck, M. D., Keating, D. P., Saewyc, E. M., Earls, F. & Ben-Arieh, A. (2014). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Its relevance for adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 26(1) 16-29. doi:10.1111/jora.12172

2Smith, A. B. (2016). Achieving social justice for children : How can children’s rights thinking make a difference? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 86(5), 500-507. doi:10.1037/ort0000191

3Huus, K., Dada, S., Bornman, J., Lynegard, F. (2016). The awareness of primary caregivers in South Africa of the human rights of their children with intellectual disabilities. Childcare, Health, and Development, 42(6) 863-870. doi:10.1111/cch.12358



Julia Mancini is currently a junior Psychology and Criminal Justice double major at George Washington University. Julia has a particular interest in children and families and is excited to be interning with the Children, Youth and Families office this fall. Julia has been involved with behavioral genetic research through The Boston University Twin Project. She also worked as a Clinical Research Intern at Safe Shores, DC’s Children’s Advocacy Center, investigating disparities in PTSD presentations among minority youth. This past summer Julia interned for the Child Protection Unit in the District Attorney’s office in her home state of Massachusetts. She also had the opportunity to work internationally with a non-profit in Cochabamba, Bolivia that provides psychological, legal, and social services to child survivors of sexual violence.

Image source: Photo by Michael Mims on Unsplash

Filed under: Children and Youth, Human Rights and Social Justice Tagged: children's rights, human rights, International Human Rights Day, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Historical Trauma in the Present: Why APA Cannot Remain Silent on the Dakota Access Pipeline


By Susan H. McDaniel, PhD (2016 APA President)

Protesters being marked with numbers, put in dog kennels and shot with rubber bullets. These do not sound like events that should occur in modern day America. Unfortunately, according to media reports, these are some of the first-hand accounts of what is happening in North Dakota as protests escalate over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

For those unfamiliar with the dispute between environmental and human rights protesters on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and law enforcement, I would invite to you read the New York Times detailed summary of events. In short, there is a growing perception of injustice as a 1,172-mile oil pipeline that is slated to run from North Dakota to Illinois was rerouted near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation due its potential threat of contamination to Bismarck, North Dakota’s water supply.

Native Americans have been historically marginalized and mistreated by the United States. For instance, not all States recognized Native Americans’ right to vote until 1957 and many tribes experienced great loss of life, land and culture as the result of State and Federal legislation.

According to the psychological literature, chronic, systemic loss and mistreatment, as described above, may lead to historical trauma in which the pain experienced by one generation transfers to subsequent generations through biological, psychological, environmental, and social means. Studies show that historical trauma is linked to health disparities, including increased likelihood of early death due to chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, and suicide.

APA’s mission is to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.” This mission makes it incumbent upon our field and our association to speak out when the health and well-being of marginalized and other populations are being threatened and when possible to prevent trauma from occurring.

Due to the current proposed placement of the Dakota Access pipeline, we are concerned about possible leakage, which could harm the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. As psychologists, we are troubled by the potential for adverse neurological effects arising from exposure to oil-contaminated water.

In response to current events, I sent a letter on behalf of APA to President Obama with Dr. Jacqueline Gray, President of the Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race (APA Division 45) that expressed:

  • Our support for the Administration’s hold on the construction of the oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation, and praise for his consideration of alternate routes for the project; and
  • A request to urge law enforcement to show restraint as they try to diffuse the conflict.

It is critical that APA and the mental health community continue to show our support and bring attention to the issues impacting Native American communities and to help alleviate historical trauma.

In closing, I recommend you sign up for APA’s Federal Action Network to influence policy makers and make sure your voice is heard on critical issues in the future.

Dr. McDaniel is president of the American Psychological Association.


Image source: Flickr via Creative Commons.

Filed under: Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Health Disparities, Human Rights and Social Justice Tagged: #DAPL, #noDAPL, American Indians, Dakota Access Pipeline, environmental racism, health disparities, historical trauma, human rights, human rights abuses, law enforcement, Native Americans, police brutality, public health, public policy, racism, trauma, violence, water is life

Firearm Violence Prevention is a Human Rights Issue

Disarm HateBy Susan H. McDaniel, PhD (APA President) and Cynthia D. Belar, PhD (APA Interim CEO)

June 28 is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which launched lesbian and gay rights as a mass movement and is commemorated in the LGBT Pride celebrations. We take this occasion to reaffirm the American Psychological Association’s commitment to removing the social stigma that sexual and gender minorities still experience both here in the U.S. and around the world. We’ve come a long way since the days when mainstream psychology contributed to the oppression of sexual and gender minorities as mentally ill. However, prejudice and discrimination still exist today even within psychology. There are individuals and organizations in the U.S. and many other places promoting the unscientific idea that sexual orientation and gender identity are choices that can or should be changed.

This month’s shootings in Orlando were horrific, but sadly they weren’t a radical aberration. Violence directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people remains widespread and frequent. A recent New York Times analysis of FBI hate crimes data indicated that such crimes against sexual minorities were the highest per capita of any group tracked. Internationally, violence against sexual and gender minorities, can be even more brutal. In South Africa where human rights of LGBT people are enshrined in the constitution, “corrective rape” of lesbians still occurs. In the Middle East, ISIS has thrown gay men from rooftops. The U.N. has called for its members to act urgently to end such violence and discrimination.

Violence and discrimination are not based solely on one set of prejudices; members of the LGBT community face prejudice for multiple reasons. As we have learned more information about the victims of the shootings in Orlando, it has become clear that most were people of color and predominantly Latino. We also know that transgender women of color are the majority of LGBT hate crime homicides. People of color and the LGBT community continue to experience discrimination, and their risk of victimization is compounded when their identities intersect across multiple stigmatized groups.

When governments, including the U.S., codify discrimination, they help to promote and maintain stigma and prejudice. Hundreds of laws targeted at LGBT people have been introduced in our state legislatures in the past three years and some have passed. Draconian new laws targeting LGBT people and their allies were adopted in Uganda and Nigeria in recent years. In much of the Middle East and South Asia, legal penalties for homosexuality range from 14 years’ imprisonment to death. Russia has even criminalized speech that supports the rights of sexual or gender minorities.

Action is needed to end all discrimination and violence, public and private. Legal protections matter. Research has found that LGBT people living in places with protective and supportive laws are healthier than those in places with fewer legal protections. APA is proud to join with civil and human rights groups to promote U.S. policies that prohibit unfair discrimination of all kinds, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The LGBT movement has had remarkable successes – such as marriage equality – due to its commitment and creativity. It is important for us all to keep that in mind and to call upon the strengths that the LGBT community and its allies have built as we move forward.

The shootings in Orlando, as the work of a lone gunman, will not ultimately harm the movement for LGBT rights, but they do make painfully clear how firearm violence is a human rights issue. Firearm violence affects us all – and especially those targeted by hate. Out of this tragic event an opportunity can be seen for all groups to come together—including LGBT people, people of color, and their allies, along with violence prevention advocates—to achieve legislative and cultural change to prevent any further needless deaths and injuries due to gun violence.

Filed under: Human Rights and Social Justice, LGBT Issues, Violence Tagged: discrimination, firearm violence, gun violence, gun violence prevention, hate, hate crime, human rights, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, LGBT rights, Orlando shootings, prejudice, violence prevention

What Educators Need to Know About Online Sex Trafficking

blog-online-sex-traffickingBy Pamela Anderson, PhD and Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES (ETR)

What comes to mind when you hear the words “sex trafficking”?

If you’re like a lot of people, you might think of a sinister alley in a foreign country serving as the local red light district. Or you might imagine a woman who comes to the U.S. with hopes of a better life for herself and her family who is then forced to sell her body to pay debt bondage. Maybe you think of a young woman violently forced by a hated pimp to work the streets.

While all of these images do constitute forms of sex trafficking, they barely begin to tell the story. And as these disturbing pictures run through our minds, few of us add to our list the children and teens in our own communities. We aren’t likely to think of the students in our classrooms as they navigate the Internet or check into their social network sites.

Yes, It’s Real and It’s Here

Myths and misconceptions about human trafficking abound. The facts? Trafficking is both an international and a domestic problem. It affects young people as well as adults. It involves individuals of different sexual orientations and a range of sexual identities. There’s a good chance it’s affecting youth you know.

By addressing myths and clarifying the issues, educators have unique opportunities to make a difference. They can take practical steps to prevent trafficking and help young people protect themselves and their peers.

What is Sex Trafficking?

According to the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), human sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act is a minor. When minors are involved in commercial sex, even in the absence of force, fraud or coercion, they are considered human trafficking victims.

Find definitions of “force,” “fraud” and “coercion” here.

What’s Online Got to Do With It?

Youth are recruited into sex trafficking in a range of ways—an older “friend” they meet at a party, a “boyfriend” who promises them a modeling or movie career, a family member or even, as some of ETR’s research has demonstrated, a same-age romantic partner. They may also be recruited by a Facebook connection, an Instagram follower or someone they meet in an online chat room.

Remember that 9 in 10 teens go online daily, and 1 in 4 say they are online “almost constantly.” Sexualized selfies and other images are frequently shared. Teens often comment on one another’s posts with flattering remarks that are sexualized in nature (“nice body,” “you’re hot,” “what a babe”).

As this has become more normative behavior, the recruitment and grooming behaviors of traffickers stand out less. Twenty years ago, a stranger asking a teen to pose for nude photos would have set off alarms for most youth. Today, it’s not unusual for someone a teen doesn’t know to praise a photo, encourage more explicit sharing and even suggest an in-person meeting.

One recent report found that while most of the trafficking victims they surveyed originally met their trafficker in person, younger victims recruited more recently were significantly more likely to have met their trafficker online. Websites, social networking sites and other online tools are being used not only to recruit youth, but also to facilitate trafficking and connect with customers.

What You Need to Know

Here are four things all educators need to know about online sex trafficking.

  1. Adolescent sex trafficking in the U.S. is real. It’s often difficult to see signs of adolescent sex trafficking. Reliable estimates of the number of youth involved do not exist. One study calculated that more than 244,000 children in the U.S. are at risk for trafficking. Over 80% of victims in confirmed sex trafficking cases in this country are U.S. citizens.
  2. It affects youth of all genders and can start at very early ages. Boys, girls, transgender and gender-fluid youth may all be recruited. Data on the average age at which children first become involved is difficult to pin down. Some reports suggest an average age of 13-16 for girls, but instances of children as young as 10 are not uncommon. There are also reports of children of 4 or 5 being initiated into trafficking.
  3. It’s probably affecting youth you know. You can’t tell by looking that someone has been involved in sex trafficking. Often, young people involved in trafficking don’t see themselves as victims. They may have great affection, even love, for the person doing the trafficking. They may feel they are making independent, mature decisions and affirming their own freedom and independence.
  4. Talking with youth about healthy relationships can make a difference. Sexual choices take place in the context of young people’s lives. Our organization, ETR, is doing research that looks at the role romantic relationships play in the choices teens make. This additional focus on relationships and situational context appears to enhance the ability to teach effective prevention skills to youth.

We believe this learning is also relevant to the prevention of human trafficking. Few youth who become involved in trafficking are abducted off the street by menacing strangers. Rather, they are engaged, courted and groomed by skilled individuals who read a young person’s need for attention, desire to be special or yearning for love.

Sometimes a trafficker offers the most powerful affirmation a young person has ever experienced—“You are beautiful exactly as you are.” This can be especially persuasive for youth who may have been marginalized in school settings, including gay and transgender youth, young people with learning differences or mental health issues, and survivors of trauma and sexual abuse.

What Educators Can Do

  1. Learn more
  • Look over this excellent infographic from Polaris about online sex trafficking. If you work with older students, consider having them use this as a resource in a classroom lesson about human trafficking.

UNE Online

  1. Talk with, not at, your students
  • Help students learn about healthy relationships. (ETR’s HealthSmart, a comprehensive K-12 health curriculum, addresses healthy relationships in the unit on Emotional & Mental Health. Other curricula may address healthy relationships as a standalone topic, or within sexual health programs. NHTRC has a resource list for educators and students, including a Student Engagement Toolkit).
  • Let students know that trafficking exists. Integrate the topic into classes addressing dating abuse or other types of violence. Share resources with students and encourage them to seek help for themselves or their friends if needed. (The NHTRC hotline is 1-888-373-7888, active 24/7.)
  • Remember that the Internet and social media are not the enemy. These are vital sources of social engagement for most teens. Our goal is not to stop students from using technology. Rather, it is to help them build and practice the skills that allow them to use technology in empowering, self-affirming and productive ways.

What Are You Doing?

Have you addressed online sex trafficking with your students? We’d love to hear what you’ve done and what you’ve learned from your students.


Pamela  Anderson, PhD, is a psychologist and Senior Research Associate at ETR with more than 10 years of experience conducting research in the area of sexual and reproductive health. Pam has considerable experience in designing, managing and implementing multi-site and multi-method evaluations in school settings featuring group-randomized designs. Her work focuses largely on the context of adolescent romantic relationships and understanding the impact of healthy and unhealthy behaviors on adolescents’ health and well-being. Pam’s work also includes a focus on the correlates and outcomes of unhealthy and violent relationships, including the commercial sexual exploitation of young people. She continues to be interested in the role technology plays in how adolescents in communicate with each other in relationships as well as how technology can be used in developing and adapting health promotion interventions for youth. Pam is also currently involved in an NIH-funded study to create and evaluate a blended learning pregnancy and HIV prevention intervention based on the content of the evidence-based program, Reducing the Risk.

Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES, is Senior Editor in charge of ETR’s blog and newsletters. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 25 years’ experience providing services and materials to schools and communities. Much of her clinical work has focused on adolescent and family issues, life transitions and coping with chronic and life-limiting medical conditions. She has authored over 35 published books, curricula and monographs, dozens of professional articles and over 100 health education pamphlets.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Human Rights and Social Justice Tagged: educators, human rights, human trafficking, online sex trafficking, sex trafficking, sexualization, social media, teens, trafficking, youth