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Yale UNICEF 2016 Conference on Child Rights

May 05, 2016
by By Cindy Ngyuen and Metincan Suran (YC '19), edited by Caroline Tangoren (YC '18)

Yale UNICEF, a member group of the United Nations International Children’s Fund Campus Initiative, held its fourth annual Conference on Children’s Rights, focusing on Early Childhood Development (ECD) on Saturday, April 9th, 2016 at Yale's Linsly-Chitteden Hall. The conference discussed early childhood development from multiple perspectives, including international policy making, biology, economics, sociology, public health, and law.

The conference featured speakers Dr. Nicholas Alipui, Director of Programs UNICEF and Dr. Linda Mayes, Director Yale Child Study Center, and was proudly co-sponsored by the Yale Child Study Center and the Dwight Hall Center for Public Service and Social Justice. Yale UNICEF student leaders and conference organizers were mentored over the course of the academic year by Yale faculty advisers, Dr. Kaveh Khoshnood (School of Public Health), and Drs. James F. Leckman and Angelica Ponguta (Child Study Center).

Dr. Nicholas Alipui, Director of Programs and Former Director and Senior Adviser of UNICEF’s Post-2015 Development Agenda, delivered the conference’s keynote address. Dr. Alipui highlighted the commitment of the international community to ECD thus far: the Convention of the Rights of the Child is the most rapidly ratified convention in history. He emphasized the importance of thinking as children as “subjects with rights” rather than as “objects of charity.” He also stressed the need for a universal agenda for prioritizing ECD to translate this commitment into action.

Dr. Linda Mayes, Director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, took the stage to discuss research on the biological differences between children with different early childhood experiences. She presented research in both humans and animal models showing the negative impact of extreme chronic stress on brain development and childhood exploration. Dr. Mayes emphasized the importance of strong parenting in the brain development of young children through serve and return interactions.

Highlighting economic incentives for ECD investments, Dr. Milagros Nores of Rutgers University demonstrated that investing in ECD results in unparalleled levels of societal benefits. Longitudinal studies of preschool interventions show higher rates of high school graduation, employment, and incomes in study participants. It also found lower rates of arrest and violent crime in study participants by age forty. Now discussions focus on how countries should go about implementing early intervention to maximize cost effectiveness and long-term benefit.

The importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and discussion of US non-ratification followed with Dr. Yvonne Vissing from Salem State University. Dr. Vissing highlighted how misconceptions on children’s rights versus parents’ rights have complicated US ratification. She encouraged individuals to advocate for US ratification and consider children’s rights when at the polls.

The complexity of ECD in humanitarian crises was discussed with panelists Katie Murphy (ECD Technical Advisor, International Rescue Committee), Dr. Kaveh Khoshnood (Associate Professor, Yale School of Public Health), and Bassam Khawaja (Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch). Dr. Khoshnood introduced a parenting intervention in Lebanon to build a culture of peace amongst Palestinian refugees, a Formative Childhood and Peace Building initiative at the Yale Child Study Center. Murphy highlighted the importance of providing psycho-social support for children affected by conflict. Khawaja discussed the barriers to becoming a registered refugee and the legal implications registration holds for child refugees’ education.

The next panel hosted four Yale students to describe their experiences with ECD internships, on-campus organizations, and advocacy. Holly Robinson (YC ‘17), Chanel Marin ( Yale School of Public Health ‘16), Sofia Gulaid (YC ‘18), and Frank Boudon (YC ‘19) encouraged Yalies to pursue interests in ECD and offered advice as to where to access these types of opportunities.

The event concluded with “I Drew My Family”, an art exhibition featuring the work of Syrian refugee children curated by Metincan Suran (YC ’19). Suran, a native of Turkey, spent his school breaks volunteering in Syrian refugee camps in Turkey. Presenting the untold stories of the Syrian refugee children to an American audience, “I Drew My Family” exposes the tragic effects of the Syrian civil war on the childhood development. The show features paintings made by Syrian children, who vocalize their pain by watercolor and crayons on themes such as family, war, peace and country.

For more information about this student initiative, please visit Yale UNICEF.

Submitted by Nancy Fallon on May 06, 2016