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Barrozo Advocates for Unparented Children

03/27/14
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Asst. Professor Paulo Barrozo (Law). Photo by Lee Pellegrini

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Mar. 27, 2014

Boston College Law Assistant Professor Paulo Barrozo calls the predicament of unparented children – orphaned, institutionalized, abandoned to the streets or otherwise without the care of a loving parent – “the greatest unrecognized humanitarian crisis of our time.” So Barrozo is helping marshal support within his profession for pending US legislation that promotes domestic and international adoption worldwide.

Barrozo and his colleague Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet recently organized 24 fellow BC Law faculty and 34 Harvard Law faculty members to sign a letter urging Congress to uphold the core principles in the Children in Families First (CHIFF) bill under consideration in both the House and Senate. They see the letter as an important part of the efforts to raise awareness of, and support for, CHIFF.

The proposed legislation affirms the recognition of a child’s fundamental human right to a nurturing permanent family, and commits the US government to vindication of that right. As Barrozo explains, “CHIFF stipulates that the resources of the United States ought to be directed through the Department of State to promote policies around the world which pursue concurrently solutions to unparenthood — be it maintenance or reunification with family of origin where appropriate or adoption in-country or inter-countries — so as to decrease to a maximum possible the period in which children are deprived of their fundamental human right to a family.”

Barrozo says the letter was meant to urge lawmakers to preserve the human rights integrity of the bill. “The time is approaching when committees in the House and Senate will start to study in earnest the details of the bill, and then begin negotiations on what form it might take. That is when legislation often can be watered down or changed in such a way that it is not as effective as it might be.

“So we thought of bringing together some of the best jurists around, representing a variety of political viewpoints and legal expertise, to show agreement on this very important issue. We want to say to Congress, ‘As you negotiate and compromise, the voice of the children asks you not to water down the core human rights provision of the proposed legislation.’”

The response to the letter campaign has been gratifying, says Barrozo. “It’s been overwhelmingly positive. The letter caught the attention of the press, and fortified the position of the senators and representatives who have sponsored the bill, while also helping attract others in support.

“We’ve also been very pleased to see a movement in other law schools to sign onto the letter or start a similar campaign. You can’t underestimate how phenomenal it is that this diverse group of legal scholars of the highest caliber and reputation are united behind the perspective of human rights for children.”

Barrozo’s advocacy for unparented children has included bringing a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, along with Bartholet and other experts, on the right of children to grow up in a nurturing family. He is currently working with a major international law firm as part of an initiative to design a global strategy to aid children who lack a family environment.