Our Kids Are Watching Us
For the first time in more than a year, Democrats and Republicans have begun to speak mistily about the prospects for our children's future.
"With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. Kids look to us to determine who and what they can be." Michelle Obama
Words alone don't matter. What actions can the Congress and President take immediately to improve the lives of American children?
Human Rights Watch has reported extensively on health hazards of children working in the American Tobacco Industry. Voluntary policies to eliminate child labor in tobacco are insufficient and carry no force of law. The Children Don't Belong on Tobacco Farms Act (S.974/H.R.1848) should be passed by Congress and signed into law. The medical evidence is overwhelming; children have no business handling tobacco. This bill should take five minutes to pass, about the same amount of time it takes to read. Pass this Bill now, in the lame duck Congressional session in September.
If we're going to protect children in the fields who pick tobacco, why not protect all children who work in American agriculture whose lives and educations are put on hold and whose health is compromised by 12-hour days of work in one of the most dangerous occupations in the country? The Children's Care Act for Responsible Employment (HR2764) has had the support of over a hundred national organizations and dozens of House members but has failed to find a single United States Senator willing to champion them by sponsoring legislation in the Senate. And so every day, in every state of our union, hundreds of thousands of children pick our fruits and vegetables, exposed to pesticides. With a 60% drop-out rate from school, they are utterly poor and equally vulnerable... a target for human traffickers.
After 80 years of delay, it's long past time for the Congress and President to amend the 1939 law that ended child labor in America. Adults should work in the fields and make a living wage; children belong in school. It's time for The Care Act to be sponsored in the Senate so this legislation has an opportunity to pass. Why wait - what's to be gained by more delay? Do this in September.
Over 65,000 young people, who were brought as children to this country by their parents in search of a better life, live each year in the shadow of deportation and are unable enroll in school, find work or pursue normal lives. For years, Congress has failed to pass multiple versions of The Dream Act, a bipartisan supported Bill that would enable Dreamers to qualify to remain in America, live and work and contribute to America, including service in our military. This bill is not an amnesty, it's a pathway to legitimacy for young adults guilty only of being brought here as children. While Congress talks itself to death, America loses out on the economic potential of some of our brightest children. One UCLA report found that Dreamers would add between 1.4 to 3.6 trillion dollars to the American economy during their work lives. The Congressional Budget Office sees the national deficit reduced by 1.4 billion dollars as the Bill reduces and focuses the costs of border security to those individuals who constitute a real and violent threat to our society. But mostly, The Dream Act is a simple test of American values. Can we put ourselves in the other person's shoes? Can we find the empathy we need to make room at our table for children, who are in fact our schoolmates, our neighbors, our soldiers? Now is the time to pass the Dream Act because it's the right thing to do for those children but for also ourselves, as an expression of our own humanity.
"We don't chase fame and fortune for ourselves, we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed, because we always know there is someone who is worse off and there, but for the grace of God, go I." Michelle Obama
Children's rights are human rights and human rights are children's rights, that's the point of the 1995 treaty, The Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every nation on earth, except the United States, has adopted the Convention, a landmark document of utter simplicity that sets out the kind of world we should all aspire to for all children. While President Clinton signed the Treaty in 1995, no American President has ever submitted it to the United States Senate for its required "advise and consent". Over the years, objections to the Convention came from those upset that it prohibits either juvenile execution or life sentences, positions upheld by The United States Supreme Court. Home-school advocates have objected to the Convention's requirement for mandatory public education. But the actual issue preventing adoption has always been American exceptionalism, the feeling that we shouldn't agree to any treaty binding our behavior on the global stage.
President Obama, here is an easy addition to your legacy. Send this Convention on to the Senate and make a strong statement about children's human rights. By doing the right thing, you'd re-energize the debate about the welfare of children around the world and at home. You'd set an example and force the Senate to look into its heart. With Somalia's ratification last year, America has the distinction of being the ONLY country to not ratify The Convention on the Rights of the Child.... and what a distinction that is... to sit on the sidelines and pretend we care about values we're unwilling to adopt and publicly support. If we mean what we say about championing children interests, then adopting the CRC is the right thing to do. President Obama, don't leave office without sending this Treaty on to the Senate. Do it now.
Children sickened by tobacco, children working illegally in America's fields, children whose lives are on hold and live threatened by deportation, a world where the value and rights of children are ignored by the greatest democracy on earth. Is this the world we want for our children?
"Words and actions matter... With every word we utter and every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. "Michelle Obama
Len Morris received the Iqbal Masih Award from the Department of Labor in 2012 for his work to end the worst forms of child labor.