Human Rights Day 2019: Youth Standing Up For Human Rights

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Each year on Dec. 10, the United Nations and world community commemorates International Human Rights Day.  Began in 1948, this is the date the United Nations formally adopted the Universal Declaration of Rights. For the great community of Nations from around the world, the  Declaration of Rights  enshrines the set of principles and beliefs that all members of the human family should be afforded by virtue of their basic humanity. 

The opening lines of the Declaration affirms, "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world"; and, "Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people."

The United Nations theme for this year's International Human Rights Day is, Youth Standing Up for Human Rights, and this has been done for multifaceted reasons. One is to, "spotlight the leadership role of youth in collective movements as a source of inspiration for a better future." The UN has properly recognized that youth are the change agents of tomorrow, and one is never too young or too old to change the world; that youth participation is "essential to achieve sustainable development" for all; that youth can play a crucial role in positive change; and that empowering youth to, "better know and claim their rights will generate benefits globally." There is still much we should do in order to ensure a more vibrant and prosperous future for our young people.

The National Center for Children in Poverty estimates that in the United States – 21 percent of all children – live in families with incomes under the poverty threshold. The Children's Defense Fund calculates that  5 million  children live in extreme poverty at less than half the poverty level while 3 in 4 poor children, over 70 percent, were children of color.

Statistics by the International Labour Organization indicate that 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage; 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children; of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited for general labor; 4.8 million are  sexually exploitatied, and 4 million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities; Women and girls are 99 percent of the victims of sexual trafficking. It is also worthy to note that each Dec. 2 is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Alarmingly, recent statistics by the federal government and other agencies state that black girls represent 40 percent of victims abducted and forced in the sex trafficking industry.

Throughout American history, there are several instances of how the activism of young people helped to usher in social change. In 1903, Mother Jones would lead the March of the Mill Children from Philadelphia to New York in order to bring attention to the pain and peril of child labor, and force the nation to hear the "wail of the children." Nearly 60 years ago, it was the heralded courage of young people in Greensboro, N.C.  and Nashville, Tn. and the students of Howard High, who would lead demonstrations and sit-ins aimed at desegregation and in recognizing the basic human dignity and worth in all people. We should be mindful of the upcoming 60th anniversary of this momentous historical milestone, which led to the formation of groups such as SNCC, and that helped lay the framework for the 1960's Civil Rights movement.

Today, you can see youth advocating to find progressive answers to eradicate climate change, gun violence, inequity in schools, and ending police brutality amongst other important issues. Voting rights, worker's rights and housing rights are all at the forefront of the national consciousness. We are also provided a stark reminder that on this year a century ago, when the time came to decide women's suffrage, that it came down to one State, Tennessee, one man, Rep. Harry T. Burn of Mcminn County, and one vote. Rep. Burn would vote yes for women's suffrage after reading a letter from his mother to do so. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt was right, we all should have freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Dr. King was right we he said, "In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality." Mother Teresa was right, "We do not need guns and bombs to bring peace, we need love and compassion."

On this year's International Human Rights Day, we must strive to pass on our most benevolent virtues and not our most destructive vices to those who will travel the pathways of life behind us. We must tear down the walls of hate, bigotry and elitism. We must eliminate the barriers of intolerance and misogyny. We must open up the doors and help many in our society come out of the murky darkness and into the marvelous light. To achieve this we have to be resolved to love together, pray together, stand together, stay together, live together, give together, and and make our tomorrow a far better place than we have yet dared to have dreamed.

Eric Atkins

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