Human Rights Dilemmas in Child Protection

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Spring 2013 Course
Meets: T, Th 10:30am - 12:20pm
2 classroom credits

A growing number of children and adolescents around the world are subjected to violence, exploitation and other forms of abuse. These harms persist despite the proliferation of international norms and structures designed to protect this population and promote its wellbeing. In many cases global transformations exacerbate rather than reduce the risks of abuse and increase the protection challenges these risks give rise to. Though each category of child protection deficit has its own characteristics and its attendant normative framework, they all share common and definable elements. These commonalities reflect key structures of the society in which the harms occur: growing income inequality and poverty; natural or man-made disasters of unprecedented destruction; a failure to move beyond concerns relating to basic child survival and attend to core child protection concerns. The study of how societies address their child protection obligations, including the normative framework, advance planning and policy and practice initiatives undertaken, reveals a series of profound and unresolved dilemmas that go to their self-definition as global players. An investigation of the human rights dilemmas that arise in child protection on a global scale presents, in a microcosm, a perspective on the social and political dynamics affecting some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

The perspective of this course is twofold. One focus is on the child protection issues themselves, their genesis and impact. The other is on the human rights strategies and dilemmas relevant to those (at both the individual and societal level) charged with responding to rights violations affecting children and fulfilling public child protection obligations. In the midst of historic technological advances and significant progress in the realm of international human rights, the strategic choices and responsibilities facing leaders and others concerned with child protection are of increasing complexity and scope. Some challenges require long term structural planning and the ability to marshall resources for child protection across agencies and governments. Other challenges require immediate emergency responses that entail diplomatic, logistical and leadership skills. Yet others require multidisciplinary, integrative talents in order to understand and impinge on detrimental contemporary transformations that have aggravated the plight of many of the world’s most vulnerable children. Little work has been carried out systematically in any of these areas, with the result that expertise on the ground is thin and operates in a somewhat “evidence-free” zone.

A key concern of the course will be to integrate legal approaches with those developed in the health and social sciences. A recurring theme will be the evaluation of how international obligations map onto policy outcomes and how human rights mechanisms affect problems facing vulnerable children on the ground. The course will begin with a brief review of the theory and literature relating to child protection and international human rights. It will proceed with an in depth discussion of case studies covering central aspects of child protection – child labor, child trafficking, child soldiering and child persecution. Analytic points will be derived from an investigation of specific problems, the legal frameworks relating to them and the solutions that have been advanced to address them.

Course Learning Objectives

At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Analyze and assess child vulnerabilities and child rights needs comprehensively and effectively craft and implement an appropriate response.

  • Describe the factors that will enable them, as future leaders and policy makers in the public health and child protection arena, to effectively communicate strategies for resolving human rights dilemmas in child protection to professional colleagues and peers, and to employees working under their supervision.

  • Analyze the critical elements of a child protection challenge in a particular empirical context, to identify key factors requiring investigation and intervention, and to present the outcome of this problem solving exercise lucidly and concisely in the form of a coherent case.

  • Outcome Measures

    Students taking the course for credit and auditors will be expected to attend all classes, cover all required readings, and participate in class discussion. Grades will be based on class participation, oral presentation of the human rights dilemmas arising in a particular child protection problem selected by the student, and submission of the written analysis (15 pages, 1.5 spaced). The presentation and final submission will rely on key concepts elaborated during the course. The final submission will be a written analysis of a particular child protection problem. Details regarding the assignments will be discussed in class. The written analysis will be due on the last day of class as noted (see course schedule).

    Class participation will be evaluated taking into account the student’s grasp of the assigned materials, the responsiveness to in class questions posed by the instructor and the quality of contributions made to in class discussions and debates. The oral presentation will be evaluated based on the lucidity, depth and insight into the case presented. The written submission will be evaluated in terms of the strength of the argument presented, the extent of relevant research undertaken, and the sophistication of the analysis of the child protection challenge addressed. The final grade will be based on the following components:

    Class participation: 30%; oral presentation: 10%; written paper 60%.

    NOTE: This course is jointly listed at HSPH as GHP553 and will meet at HSPH in the spring.

    Subject Areas: International, Comparative & Foreign Law .