Introduction to Human Rights Philosophy & the Rights of Children
Today it is a common belief that every person across the world has the same rights as a result of our common humanity. Most would agree that we are all equally entitled to our rights without discrimination.
Yet many, including vulnerable children, still have their rights denied daily as inequality and corruption keep many susceptible to abuse, unfair treatment or unequal opportunity.
So how did we get here? Let’s quickly run through the history of “human rights.”
While most of us across the world today believe that every person is entitled to life, liberty and fair treatment, it hasn’t always been that way.
Today’s understanding of natural rights was elaborated initially by Western thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, although countless great thinkers and activists across the globe from a variety of cultures have contributed to ideas we now associate with the philosophy of “human rights.” Thanks to these thinkers and activists, we now understand that all peoples are “created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” which we can define as entitlements that belong to individuals simply because they are human. We are entitled to these rights as a consequence of our inherent human vulnerability or because these rights are considered essential to the existence of a just community or civilization. As Christians, we set apart humans as exceptionally valuable, believing that each is made in God’s image. This belief should orient our hearts toward equality and justice, loving and serving every person as if they were Christ himself (Matthew 25:40).
Of course, even as great thinkers developed philosophies about human rights, throughout history these rights have been repeatedly and systematically denied—sometimes even by those defending human rights. Take the United States slave trade of peoples originating from the continent of Africa, for example. What rights were these enslaved people denied? A quick list would include their rights to life, liberty and bodily autonomy. They were treated and mistreated as property. Men, women and children were used and abused, treated as less than human. This was literally legislated; it was legal. Consider the three-fifths compromise, for example, which designated black people as legally less than human. We may also consider the treatment of workers, including children, during the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Although these workers were not legally owned as slaves, they too were treated as property—used and abused in order to make a profit. For child workers, parents were often accomplices in this mistreatment. Today we thank God that these two issues are outlawed and frowned upon in the United States and many other places, but we continue to see their lasting effects. Slavery still exists, although it is essentially illegal across the globe; racism still plagues our communities; and children continue to be treated as commodities with less agency and power as their adult counterparts.
This mistreatment of children is an atrocity and one of the reasons the Micah Project exists.
As we observe and learn from our past, we notice that the expression of “human rights” is a relatively new phenomenon, which entered everyday understanding and colloquial parlance after World War II. Scholars agree that it was the rise and fall of Nazi Germany that brought forth general support of human rights. Many of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime were authorized by Nazi legislation and decrees. This convinced people that legality does not necessarily evoke morality, and many began to pursue and support an ideological doctrine that ensured human rights for all peoples.
Yet even as support of human rights grows, we continue to see abuses. While we can be thankful for the development of human rights philosophy, it’s not hard to observe that it just isn’t enough. We as individuals, communities and nations must continue to develop these ideas further and work to ensure their practice. As Christians, we also believe that there is another, more eternal element to all of this. Human beings are sinful, and the evil in our hearts will continually lead us take advantage of, intimidate and abuse others. Therefore, we at Micah feel it is important to also consider human rights philosophy from a biblical perspective, guided by God’s Holy Spirit.
As Christians, we can look to our Scripture to find support of human rights, and God’s Holy Spirit, which lives within us, guides us to stand up for others. Citing passages that implore us to “do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless,” we can see that throughout the messy events of human history, God has led with a heart for justice and love for the oppressed.
In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, it would be hard for a Christian to ignore the oppression found around every corner. We witness countless human rights abuses every day, where many people, including children, are facing daily mistreatment, violence and poverty. Most of the children we work with on our city’s streets are homeless or nearly homeless—their human rights denied at every turn.
While the situation in Honduras is improving in some ways, we continue to see grave violations of human rights. As a ministry, we focus specifically on the rights of children. Although obstacles to investigation make it difficult to know just how bad the situation is, countless stories of child abuse exist. Specifically, poverty, sexual assault, violence, poor access to education and healthcare as well as the prevalence of harsh child labor keep Honduran minors from living to their fullest potential. To help us better understand the issues we are facing, here are a few statistics:
- According to the World Bank, about 48% of Hondurans live below the poverty line, with over 60% of the rural population. While urban areas have a lower percentage of impoverished citizens, the rate remains high in comparison to global standards.
- Honduras has the second smallest middle class in Latin America, at only 10.9% of the population. This translates to great separation between the wealthy upper class and other Hondurans who are living in extreme poverty.
- According to a UN agency report, more than 200,000 Honduran children stopped attending school between 2014 and 2017 due to prevalence of gang violence in and around schools. The growing expansion of gang activity makes education secondary to survival, translating to increased illiteracy and high rates of unemployment.
- In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic kept students out of school for in-person learning for many months. Although we don’t yet have statistics to fully understand the impact of virtual learning, a majority of Honduran children did not have regular access to Internet in order to communicate with their teachers in 2020. This left an immense amount of kids without any formal education this year. (Many students also don’t have daily access to electricity, let alone books or other school supplies.)
- The homicide rate in Honduras is about 60 per 100,000. In Honduras, only 4% of reported homicide cases result in arrest. There is a pervasive lack of trust between Honduran civilians and workers in the justice system: Members of Honduras’ most vulnerable communities often do not trust the police, public prosecutors or judges. Fearing retaliation from violent perpetrators, many refuse to give testimony necessary for convictions. This, in turn, causes Honduran judicial officials to lose trust in victims and witnesses. Therefore, we see a vicious cycle of violence and impunity that has contributed to Honduras’ status as one of the most violent countries in the world.
- Many children in Honduras are undernourished. In Honduran children under the age of five, stunted growth levels are at 23%.
At a glance, we hope you can see how these realities create obstacles to the fulfillment of the rights we believe all children are entitled to.
So, how can we as Christians overcome these obstacles and “act justly” on behalf of Honduran children? Follow along with our blogs as we dive more deeply into these issues.