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Improving children’s health and human rights

Laura Ferguson played a role in the adoption of a resolution that involves children's health-related rights. (Photo/Courtesy of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in March that brought the U.N. one step closer to securing children’s health-related rights across the globe.

Laura Ferguson, assistant professor in the USC Department of Preventive Medicine and USC Program on Global Health & Human Rights, played a key role in the technical, political and practical processes surrounding the resolution and other related efforts.

The work started more than a year ago when Ferguson began providing technical assistance to the World Health Organization and other partners as they coordinated research to help define the obligations of states and other actors regarding children’s right to health.

The output of this process was a “General Comment” on children’s right to health. Issued by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, this served as an authoritative interpretation of the children’s right and clarified priority areas for government action across a range of topics, such as child mortality, nutrition and access to sexual and reproductive health information and services for adolescents.

Reflecting growing interest in this area, the U.N. Human Rights Council discussed children’s right to health on March 7. The talks were guided by a technical report by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that Ferguson also assisted in producing.

“A child rights-based approach to health emphasizes the need to eliminate exclusion and reduce social disparities in health between different groups of children,” said Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the meeting.

A few weeks later the council adopted — by consensus — the political resolution that calls on governments to protect children’s right to health. The resolution marked a turning point in ensuring support to children in a number of areas, including access to information on sex and substance abuse, as well as designating violence against children as a violation of their right to health.

Focused on moving human rights beyond the rhetoric of technical and political documents, Ferguson is now concentrating on ensuring these global commitments make an impact on the ground. She has helped lead two regional workshops — one in the Philippines and the other in Nicaragua — that brought together government officials, nongovernmental organizations and adolescents to build their capacity to implement these commitments.

“It is exciting to see how the General Comment and the Human Rights Council Resolution, which are global-level frameworks, can be used as practical hands-on resources to make a real difference to people’s lives by guiding health laws, policies and practice at country and community levels,” said Ferguson, who added that she plans to continue supporting these processes to ensure that the work will continue on a local and national level.

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