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From principle to practice: moving from human rights to legal rights to ensure child health
  1. Barry Zuckerman,
  2. Ellen Lawton,
  3. Samantha Morton
  1. Department of Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr B Zuckerman
    Boston Medical Center, 771 Albany Street, Dowling 3509 South, Boston, MA 02118, USA;barry.zuckerman{at}bmc.org

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Perspective on the paper by Waterston and Goldenhagen (see 176)

We applaud Waterston and Goldenhagen’s1 call to arms to healthcare professionals to consider the poor health of the world’s children (the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child providing the framework to direct such efforts). We also agree that it is essential to deal with the pervasive structural barriers that lead to inequality, poor health and suffering.2 But, as we continue to push for rights-based laws around the world, we also encourage an active strategy of promoting the enforcement of existing laws that protect children—especially those laws that ensure access to children’s basic needs, such as food, housing, safety, healthcare and education. Waterston and Goldenhagen themselves lay the groundwork by noting that one triumph of recent human rights campaigns has not only been to identify rights violations but also to establish rights-based laws in 50 countries. Indeed, a strategy focusing on the enforcement of existing laws would go a long way in dealing with a number of the injustices cited by the authors, such as non-compliance with Jordanian child labour laws and Kenyan laws regarding child well-being.

Over the past several decades, the confluence of human rights work, increased humanitarian infrastructure and new progressive governments has, in many countries, laid a foundation of legal rights accruing to children. Ensuring adherence to the laws delineating those rights is the next step. When evaluating and treating sick children, healthcare professionals frequently identify how inadequate food, housing, safety, access to basic medications such as vaccines or other unmet basic needs contribute solely or partly to …

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