Another Reason to Stop Smoking – Child Labor

Smokeless tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes, are under scrutiny because nicotine can pose health risks. According to an article in the New York Times there was an increase in the number of high school students using e-cigarettes. This is of concern since nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain and cause lasting cognitive damage. [...]

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Reimagine the Future – State of the World’s Children 2015

For the full report, click on the image

Around the world, an innovation revolution for children is growing – often in the most unexpected places – and increasingly led by young people themselves.

Fueled by creativity, connectivity, and collaboration, new ways of solving problems are emerging – in tech design studios and university laboratories, in development organizations and corporations, and in kitchens and community centres.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, this edition of The State of the World’s Children highlights the work of remarkable young innovators who are already reimagining the future – and invites the world to join this rising movement to advance the rights of every child.

Ending Child Poverty Now Cover
Ending Child Poverty Now

For the full report, click here

For the first time, this Children’s Defense Fund report shows that by investing an additional 2 percent of the federal budget into existing programs and policies that increase employment, make work pay, and ensure children’s basic needs are met, the nation could reduce child poverty by 60 percent and lift 6.6 million children out of poverty.
The United States has the second highest child poverty rate among 35 industrialized countries despite having the largest economy in the world. A child in the United States has a 1 in 5 chance of being poor and the younger she is the poorer she is likely to be. A child of color, who will be in the majority of U.S. children in 2020, is more than twice as likely to be poor as a White child. This is unacceptable and unnecessary. Growing up poor has lifelong negative consequences, decreasing the likelihood of graduating from high school and increasing the likelihood of becoming a poor adult, suffering from poor health, and becoming involved in the criminal justice system. These impacts cost the nation at least half a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity and increased health and crime costs. Letting a fifth of our children grow up poor prevents them from having equal opportunities to succeed in life and robs the nation of their future contributions.
The U.S. can end child poverty by investing more in programs and policies that work. Substantial progress in reducing child poverty has been made over the past 50 years, despite worsening income inequality and increased unemployment and low-wage work. Child poverty dropped over a third from 1967 to 2012 when income from in-kind benefits like nutrition and housing assistance and tax credits are counted. Without these federal safety net programs child poverty would have been 68 percent higher in 2013, and 8.2 million additional children would have been poor. Despite this progress, 12.2 million children were poor in 2013 even after taking into account federal safety net programs because good jobs are still too scarce and safety net programs are stretched far too thin.
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© Richard Ross

There is a possibly apocryphal story about Frederick the Second of Hohenstaufen, who was famous for having an inquiring mind. The emperor was curious to see if there is an archetypal human language that infants would develop in the absence of adults teaching them to speak. He collected a group of newborns – it helps [...]

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For Their Own Protection

“Why lock somebody up while you’re locked up? You’re trying to kill their spirit even more,” says Michael Kemp, describing his six-month stay in solitary confinement at age 17.

Solitary confinement was once a punishment reserved for the most-hardened, incorrigible criminals. Today, it is standard practice for tens of thousands of juveniles in prisons and jails across America. Far from being limited to the most violent offenders, solitary confinement is now used against perpetrators of minor crimes and children who are forced to await their trials in total isolation. Often, these stays are prolonged, lasting months or even years at a time.

Widely condemned as cruel and unusual punishment, long-term isolation for juveniles continues because it’s effectively hidden from the public. Research efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition have struggled to uncover even the most basic facts about how the United States punishes its most vulnerable inmates.

How can a practice be both widespread and hidden? State and federal governments have two effective ways to prevent the public from knowing how deep the problem goes.

The first has to do with the way prisons operate. Sealed off from most public scrutiny, and steeped in an insular culture of unaccountability, prisons are, by their very nature, excellent places to keep secrets. Even more concealed are the solitary-confinement cells, described by inmates as “prisons within prisons.” With loose record-keeping and different standards used by different states, it’s almost impossible to gather reliable nation-wide statistics.

The second method is to give the old, horrific punishment a new, unobjectionable name. Make the torture sound friendly, with fewer syllables and pleasant language. This way, even when abuse is discovered, it appears well-intentioned and humane.

So American prisons rarely punish children with prolonged solitary confinement. Instead, they administer seclusion and protective custody. Prison authorities don’t have to admit that “administrative segregation” is used to discipline children. Just the opposite, actually. It’s all being done “for their own protection.”

Seclusion? Protecting children? Who could argue with that?

For starters, there is Juan Mendez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture. Americans are accustomed to the U.N. investigating incidents of prisoner abuse in other countries — which Mendez has done in faraway places like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But increasingly, his inquiries are focused on American prisons.

Mendez spoke publicly about Bradley Manning’s deplorable treatment in solitary confinement. Now he is calling on the United States to ban isolation for minors, which he considers, “cruel, unusual, and degrading punishment.” It’s a recommendation he shares with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology.

The ACLU report, Growing Up Locked Down, is one of the few detailed, comprehensive examinations available. This devastating and detailed look at solitary confinement for minors has led to this online petition that will be presented to Attorney General Eric Holder in October 2013.

Because the prison system is so opaque, reform has been slow in coming. A congressional hearing on solitary confinement, chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) last year, heard testimony from mental health experts, questioned the director of federal prisons, and brought a replica of a solitary confinement cell onto the Senate floor. In recent years, seven states — Maine, Connecticut, West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Alaska — have enacted laws to restrict the use of punitive isolation on young people. As awareness of the magnitude of the problem grows, more reforms are likely to follow.

If we believe that juveniles are inherently less responsible for their actions than adults – and more susceptible to rehabilitation – then it follows that their punishments should be less severe.

Given the severity of the punishment, prohibiting solitary confinement for young people is a first step. The greatest challenge remains demanding greater transparency from a prison system that wields total control over its most vulnerable inmates.

Runs about 13:15 minutes.

Produced, shot, and edited by Todd Krainin.

Still photography of juvenile inmates by Steve Liss. Incidental music by ERH at Freesound.

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America’s Youngest Outcasts

The National Center on Family Homelessness 2014 report on child homelessness in America finds that 2.5 million children experience homelessness annually. Child homelessness has increased 8% nationally, and in 31 states and the District of Columbia. This historic high represents one in every 30 children in the U.S.
America’s Youngest Outcasts looks at child homelessness nationally and in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, ranks the states from 1 (best) to 50 (worst), and examines causes of child homelessness and the solutions.

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More Power To Her

The International Center for Research on Women’s report, “More Power to Her: How Empowering Girls Can Help End Child Marriage”, shows how and why investing in girls is critical to the global movement to end child marriage. The practice, which cuts across global cultures and religions, turns more than 14 million girls worldwide into child brides every year, violating their basic human rights – and hindering larger international development efforts.

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Liberté, Égalité et Fraternité

It’s been a hard month – a massacre at Charlie Hébdo, hostage-taking and murders at the kosher market in Paris and an unknown number of dead (NGO estimates run as high as 2000 souls, but no one really knows) in Baga in Northern Nigeria. Meanwhile, also in Northern Nigeria, bombings continue in the public square, [...]

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Even It Up

From Ghana to Germany, Italy to Indonesia, the gap between rich and poor is widening. In 2013, seven out of 10 people lived in countries where economic inequality was worse than 30 years ago, and in 2014 Oxfam calculated that just 85 people owned as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity.

Extreme inequality corrupts politics and hinders economic growth.

It exacerbates gender inequality, and causes a range of health and social problems. It stifles social mobility, keeping some families poor for generations, while others enjoy year after year of privilege. It fuels crime and even violent conflict. These corrosive consequences affect us all, but the impact is worst for the poorest people.

In Even it Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality Oxfam presents new evidence that the gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider and is undermining poverty eradication.

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The Fairness Gap

Farmer Incomes and Root Cause Solutions to Ending Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry
2014 ILRF report on the continuing obstacles to eliminating child labor in cocoa.

“When reports began to emerge in the mid-1990s about poor labor conditions in the cocoa industry, including labor trafficking and the worst forms of child labor, no major chocolate maker was willing to accept responsibility. After years of negotiations, campaigns, and public outcry, the chocolate industry has begun to recognize the need for changes in supply chain accountability. Despite myriad projects aimed at improving education, increasing productivity, and implementing cocoa certification, the collective impact has been limited and the industry has been unable to solve the root cause of the problem: the very low prices paid to farmers.”

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State of the Least Developed Countries 2014

Th e United Nations Offi ce of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) is presenting the State of the Least Developed Countries 2014 as part of its mandated analytical activities on the eight priority areas of the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020. Th e second of its type, the report is intended to substantively backstop follow-up in each area.
The current report builds on the first edition in 2013, which considered the issues of productive capacity building in the least developed countries (LDCs) and the post-2015 development agenda. That report proposed a conceptual and operational framework for productive capacity building in the context of the post-2015 agenda, particularly relating to LDC issues and the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Th is year’s report is dedicated to the elimination of extreme poverty in the LDCs, which is at the centre of discussions about the SDGs and an area where most LDCs lag behind.

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Flawed Fabrics

Flawed Fabrics – a new report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) – shows that workers are still facing appalling labour conditions that amount to forced labour in the export-oriented Southern Indian textile industry. The women and girls who work in the spinning mills of Tamil Nadu, some as young as 15, are mostly recruited from marginalized Dalit communities in impoverished rural areas. They are forced to work long hours for low wages. They live in very basic company-run hostels and are hardly ever allowed to leave the company compound. The researched spinning mills have Western companies and Bangladesh garment factories among their customers, including C&A, Mothercare, HanesBrands, Sainsbury’s and Primark.

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Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed

This 2014 Unicef progress report on under-five mortality and maternal health finds a good bit of progress has been made, though at the current rate of improvement, the world will meet MDGs 4 and 5 by 2026 – eleven years late. Some of the particular risk factors for newborns and infants include being born to a mother who is a child herself, being born immediately after another sibling, being born without the assistance of a skilled birth attendant. Worldwide, only 69% of women give birth with the help of a skilled birth attendant. And that’s an improvement – in 1990, the figure was 57%. Interesting read.

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Motherhood in Childhood

United Nations Population Fund report on the health effects and human rights implications of motherhood in adolescence. Lack of educational opportunity and poverty are the principal drivers for child marriage and underage pregnancy. Educational programs focusing on parents and children can help families postpone marriage.

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Made in the USA: Child Labor & Tobacco

Child labor is common on tobacco farms in the United States, where children are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers. Child tobacco workers often get sick with vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness while working, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. Many work 50 to 60 hours a week without overtime pay, often in extreme heat. They may be exposed to pesticides that are known neurotoxins. Many also use dangerous tools and machinery, lift heavy loads, and climb to perilous heights to hang tobacco for drying. The largest tobacco companies in the world purchase tobacco grown in the US to make popular cigarette brands like Marlboro, Newport, Camel, Pall Mall and others. These companies can’t legally sell cigarettes to children, but they are profiting from child labor. US law also fails these children, by allowing them to work at much younger ages, for longer hours, and under more hazardous conditions than children working in all other sectors. Children as young as 12 can work legally on tobacco farms and at even younger ages on small farms.

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William Easterly: Freedom as a Solution to Poverty

In this recent talk before the World Affairs Council, William Easterly punctures the myths underlying so much of current development work: that wise Western experts holding their noses and encouraging autocratic governments to implement technological solutions to poverty can bring about development, that responding to material needs takes precedence over political and economic rights of the individual, that autocratic governments are essentially benevolent and will do the right thing for their people given enough technical and financial support. Not so, says Easterly, and in fact countries that have developed successfully have done so as a result of guaranteeing individual rights. “A free society with economic and political rights is a decentralized problem-solving society.” Political freedom raises countries out of poverty far more effectively than patchwork technocratic solutions applied by development experts. “Poverty is not caused by a shortage of experts, but by a shortage of rights.” Well worth your time.

Robin Romano works with the Youth Arts Group
The Dreamers Among Us

I’ve raised two children, both adults now living in New York City where they’re currently pursuing their dreams.  As they grew up, attending the same public school a few years apart, there was never a question in our family of whether they’d attend college. Our regional high school sends almost 90% of the annual graduating [...]

April Fools

In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, [...]

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Race For Results

In this policy report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation explores the intersection of kids, race and opportunity. The report features the new Race for Results index, which compares how children are progressing on key milestones across racial and ethnic groups at the national and state level. The index is based on 12 indicators that measure a child’s success in each stage of life, from birth to adulthood, in the areas of early childhood; education and early work; family supports; and neighborhood context. The report also makes four policy recommendations to help ensure that all children and their families achieve their full potential.

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens

A paper by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, comparing each of four theoretical traditions in the study of American politics – which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism – and analysing which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented.

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government
policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

In other words, the unrestrained flow of money has distorted our political process to the point where we can no longer consider ourselves a functioning democracy.

So You Have An Education. Now What?

This week at Media Voices, we’ve been thinking about what happens once African children have succeeded in gaining an education, something which increasing numbers of them have managed to do. According to the World Bank, the number of African children graduating from secondary school has increased fivefold since 1970, from 7% to 38%. I found [...]

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Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa Development Forum report for the World Bank on employment prospects for youth in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as how best to maximize the energy and promise of the youth bulge.
If this is hard to read as is, go to the following link to download a pdf file:

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Inclusion Matters

The new World Bank Group report “Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity” is one of the most comprehensive reviews of social inclusion available.
The report uses evidence to bring home the message that inclusion can be advanced in myriad ways, that many countries have moved forward, and that change is within our reach.

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Harvard Field Study on Syrian Refugees in Jordan January 2014

The Syrian refugee crisis represents one of the greatest humanitarian challenges the international community has faced over the recent years, prompting record-high levels of international aid. In view of the complexity of the political and social environment in which these challenges arise and the historical scale of the population affected, innovative and creative programmatic responses are essential to address the short and middle-term needs of refugees and reducing instability in the Middle East region. Because of the economic desperation, an NGO has estimated that 16% of Syrian refugee children in Jordan are working – a fourfold increase.