Photo by Norito Hagino

Learning Clusters:

A Learning Cluster is a research seminar where students work in teams with faculty facilitators to investigate a specific question. It is designed to bridge theory and practice, and elicit an educated outcome or response. The course is designed to help students learn to apply a range of investigative and analytical tools in the discovery and presentation of trends and ideas, including policy recommendations that bear upon the quality of the human condition. Learning Clusters occur in 3.5-week block periods to take full advantage of opportunities for field and service learning.

The Learning Cluster Area student learning outcomes are:

* To develop critical, analytical, and investigative skills to formulate educated responses to a specific problem or question
* To develop personal and leadership skills to work collaboratively toward the completion of a common project
* To develop skills and awareness as concerned and engaged global citizens

Children make up a considerably neglected topic in the protection of human rights. Children occupy an ambiguous juridical space, since they are deemed too immature to be able to defend themselves and raise demands. Their rights are often associated with the rights of their biological parents, as children do not participate in politics and cannot vote. They are often neglected by governmental institutions. Most agree that children have very little control over their lives and cannot advocate for the type of world that they would like to live in.

The following are some of the initial questions we would like to explore before finalizing the course curriculum for this LC: What are some of most basic rights of children? What rights do children have that protect them from exploitation, abuse, trafficking, and appropriation? Are children capable of exercising choices and if so, should children have the right to participate in political reforms? What institutions should represent children, if any?

We have chosen to conduct on-site research because Argentina’s recent past shows unprecedented abuses to the rights that are traditionally afforded to children and embraced by almost every culture in the world. The last military dictatorship in Argentina enacted a genocide that left thousand dead and disappeared. Citizens, political activists and intellectuals were kidnapped and imprisoned in clandestine detention centers. They were often times torture and killed. Pregnant women gave birth in captivity and their babies were appropriated by military personnel or sympathizers of the regime. As a result of such abuses, grassroots human rights organization like the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo sought the assistance of forensic anthropologists and DNA researchers in the United States to create a genetic bank that could help them find their biological grandchildren. Since the late 1980s more than 100 of these missing children have been identified, prompting politicians and members of the legal system to rethink constitutional rights in order to ensure that, even during military conflicts, there are certain rights that will continue to be upheld. This painful history has informed the legal debates about the rights of children in Argentina for the last 30 years.

Photo by Norito Hagino

During the first stage of this Learning Cluster we will review the controversies around children’s rights since the end of the Second War World, a time when millions of children were left homeless and orphaned. After that, we will switch our focus to Latin America and examine the legal and social implications of the American Convention of Human Rights, (commonly known as Pacto de San José de Costa Rica) and the ratification by most countries of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. It is important to mention that while the Argentine government gave constitutional jurisdiction to these laws which grant political protection to minors (Decree 23.054), the United States is one of the remaining countries that has yet to ratify the convention.

As part of our work in Buenos Aires, we plan to interview human rights activists that work in organizations dedicated to the protecting the rights of children. We will also consider the ramifications of the ratification of the Pacto de San José and the Human Rights Convention. We will visit local schools and ask teachers how they include human rights themes in their curriculum. Last year, the Argentine ministry of education introduced a series of books and DVDs to teach young children about the appropriation of children and their right to find out their true identity.

We will also interview victims of state repression who were born in detention centers, taken away from their parents, and given to military families to be raised under the ideology of the dictatorship. These individuals are around 30 years of age and two of them have been elected to the Congress. We also plan to interview filmmakers, lawyers, judges and governmental officials who work to unearth the past and face contemporary problems such as child trafficking. We will visit the genetic bank in Buenos Aires and meet with members of the world reknown Argentine forensic team. Students will collaborate with the professor in writing a Grant application to subsidize the costs of travelling to Argentina.

Some of the general topics we would like to investigate in Argentina include:

• adoption rights
• the right to identity
• child welfare systems (plan de asistencia familiar)
• the right for children to have access to a free primary, secondary and tertiary education
• the right to free health care for children
• the right for children to enjoy an environment free of pollutants
• the obligation of government to educate children about their rights and their protection under human right conventions
• the duties of adults to protect the interests of children

Suggested links for further reading:

American Human Rights Convention (Pacto de San José de Costa Rica)

Educational material about the appropriation of minors

Banco Nacional de Datos Genéticos

Ley 26.548: Creation of the National Genetic Bank