The United Nations, A Voice for Latino Children in the U.S.
Julia Perez – 02/09/15
Over one thousand pages of reports and testimony were brought before the United Nations (UN) members of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2014. This is a convention which the U.S. ratified and is reviewed for compliance periodically. I was fortunate enough to attend and advocate for the children and adults in agriculture. Some of the issues such as police violence, and health care impact all people who lack opportunities. I was moved by the number of issues that impact our most vulnerable, our children. Some highlights are listed below.
- Black students are 3.5 times and Latino students are approximately 1.5 times more likely to be expelled than white students. Many schools directly refer youth involved in school-based infractions to law enforcement. The school to prison pipeline has received some attention from President Obama.
- Over 2 million children experience parental incarceration –Indigenous, African-African or Latino children are disproportionately affected. Federal and state governments should require courts to consider the impact of parental incarceration on children and allow judges to exercise discretion in sentencing parents to an alternative to incarceration which the Obama Administration supports.
- Foster care children receive psychotropic medications at rates 9x higher than other children. African-American children are the highest but since 1995, the number of Latino children in foster care has increased from 10 percent to 21.4 percent. The reasons referenced include drugs, incarceration, parenting skills which impacts some second and third generation Latinos. The number of foster children whose parents were deported wasn’t sited but anyone who follows the news knows this is a concern. The impact of the Foster Care Act of 2012 isn’t clear but it’s a start.
- Approximately 300,000 – 500,000 Hispanic children are legally hired to work in agriculture in violation of international law, ILO 182. This is legal due to an exemption in the Fair Labor Standard Act which allows children 12 and under to work in harsh conditions such as extreme heat, exposure to pesticides, and hard labor which compromise their health and education.
All of these issues were raised in some fashion by the CERD committee. One UN member made a point to say that U.S. had still not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Children.
2015 is the year for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). All of the participating UN members are peer reviewed with opportunities to make recommendations to which the U.S. must answer. We have opportunities for improvement and some of the issues are gaining awareness and action.
For children harvesting produce in the fields, we at least need an equal law. The United States has shown they are opposed to child labor by signing ILO 182. Just this year they Department of Labor announced they would spend $11 million dollars to eliminate child labor globally. Another $8 million was awarded to Vietnam to protect child laborers who work mostly in agriculture. Yet, the laws and protections for our children in U.S. agriculture remain unequal. Since 2001 the U.S. Congressional House committee has failed to pass legislation, the CARE bill, to remove the 1938 exemption. As a result of this inaction, the most impoverished children work in conditions doing harvesting work many adults in the U.S. will not perform. I’ll be advocating during the UPR; suggesting Executive Action for the harvesting children in our country, the most vulnerable among the vulnerable.
Will the United Nations be a voice for the children in U.S. agriculture?
Julia Perez is an electrical engineer and advocate for child laborers in U.S. agriculture which led her to serve as Associate Director of the Harvest Documentary (now on Netflix). Julia is currently finishing a short story collection related to child labor themes.
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