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A UN Treaty Guarantees Youth Rights Everywhere on Earth—Except the U.S.

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A UN Treaty Guarantees Youth Rights Everywhere on Earth—Except the U.S.
Activists Greta Thunberg (2ndL), Iris Duquesne(C), and Alexandria Villaseñor (3rd R) attend a press conference where 16 children present their official human rights complaint on the climate crisis to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child at the UNICEF Building on Sept. 23 in NYC. KENA BETANCUR / AFP / Getty Images

By Jessica Taft

Fifteen kids from a dozen countries, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, recently brought a formal complaint to the United Nations. They're arguing that climate change violates children's rights as guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a global agreement.


By petitioning the UN on behalf of the world's children, their action made history. But it's not the first time that kids have turned to this international accord in pursuit of social change.

As I explain in my book The Kids Are in Charge the Convention on the Rights of the Child isn't just a legal document. It also sends kids an important message: that they matter, that their voices are important and that they deserve to be heard. When countries join this agreement, which took effect in 1990, they pledge to work toward aligning their own laws with its principles.

Banning Corporal Punishment

The convention formally recognizes children as people with universal human rights and specific rights because of their age. It reflects a shift away from seeing children entirely as the possessions of their parents to treating them as individuals with equal rights and their own interests.

Many countries have taken action to promote children's rights and well-being based in part on its mandate. For example, South Africa recently became the 57th country to prohibit corporal punishment — any act intended to cause pain or discomfort, such as paddling and spanking — in all settings, including schools and homes.

Corporal punishment remains legal in public schools in 19 American states and no state has outlawed the practice for parents.

In Ireland, a 2012 constitutional amendment gave kids the right to be heard in custody hearings and other court proceedings. And in Nigeria, the federal government created a children's parliament and incorporated the perspectives of minors when drafting that country's Children's Rights Act.

President Bill Clinton signed this convention in 1995. But the U.S. Congress has never ratified this accord.

In fact, the U.S. is the only country that has refused to embrace the world's most-ratified human rights agreement. It has 196 signatories including all of the UN member states except the U.S. plus some UN observers and non-members, such as Palestine, the Holy See and the South Pacific territories of Cook Islands and Niue.

Empowering Kids to Advocate for Kids

Kids and their communities don't necessarily have to know about the legal details of the treaty to embrace the idea of children's rights and make it their own.

Researchers working in different contexts around the world have found that learning about the convention and their rights increases children's feelings of self-esteem and self-worth, promotes social responsibility and improves their relationships with their schools, teachers and each other.

According to a report from the Centre for Children's Rights at Queen's University Belfast and Save the Children International, a humanitarian nonprofit, it can also motivate kids to stand up for themselves and to defend their peers in the face of discrimination, violence or other rights violations.

In my own research on working children's activism in Peru, kids shared how learning about their rights empowered them to speak out about injustices they encountered in their families, schools and communities.

A boy I'll call Diego, for example, told me that knowing about the convention gave him the confidence to go to his school principal and complain about a teacher who was being verbally abusive toward students. Because of his involvement in an organization that talks about children's rights, he told me he "knew about my right to a quality education, and I knew that we, the students, could defend that right."

Meanwhile, British kids are drawing on the convention in their campaign to lower the fees for citizenship applications. At more than 1,000 British pounds — roughly equal to $1,300 — fees are so high that some British-born children who are eligible for citizenship, and would otherwise become citizens, don't apply.

Children in India have used the convention to persuade their local governments to create children's councils, where kids could be heard by adult political leaders. In the council in the small village of Keradi, children were concerned about alcoholism in their community because they saw it contributing to violence. They raised awareness of the problem and successfully pushed the local government to shut down unlicensed alcohol vendors.

Trying Children and Teens as Adults

If the U.S. were to finally ratify this convention, it could lead to changes in some national, state and local laws.

One notable children's rights violation in the U.S. today is the separation of migrant children from their parents. Others include the practice of trying children as young as 10 years old as adults in criminal courts and locking up minors convicted of crimes in adult prisonsat times in solitary confinement.

To be sure, the U.S. has made some strides toward strengthening children's rights.

In 2005, for example, the Supreme Court removed one of the most significant differences between U.S. law and the convention when it abolished the death penalty for minors. And in 2012 the court ruled that the practice of handing children mandatory life-without-parole sentences is unconstitutional.

Because the international agreement encourages governments to include children's voices in decisions that affect them, I believe that ratification would support efforts by U.S. kids to address the social, environmental and legal problems they care about most. Young activists fighting to advance climate justice, end gun violence and increase racial equity would all have the convention behind them when they speak out.

Jessica Taft is Associate Professor of Latin American & Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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