Bringing Light to Children’s Rights
Renee DeGross Valdes, 404-413-1353
ATLANTA — While in law school, a mural painted outside Jonathan Todres’ apartment window was a stark reminder of just how fragile a child’s life can be.
The colorful graffiti was a memorial in remembrance of a child who had been killed in the neighborhood.
“Graffiti art can be very powerful,” said Todres, an associate professor in the Georgia State University College of Law. “While I don’t condone vandalism, I do support giving youth opportunities to express themselves, and art can be a wonderful vehicle for that.”
Now, he focuses on children’s rights laws. His expertise includes children’s rights law and human trafficking.
A defining moment in Todres’ life came at a very young age. He remembers seeing signs of human rights abuses as a 4-year-old visiting Cape Town, South Africa, where both parents grew up.
“Beyond the signs that read ’Whites only,’ it was obvious even to a small child that people were treated differently based on their skin color,” Todres recalled.
The early exposure to the injustices of apartheid left an indelible mark and influenced what later would become the central force of Todres’ law career – human rights and child advocacy.
“Human rights issues were thrust upon me at a very early age,” Todres said. “I remember being bothered by injustice. Now, I research and write about those injustices, specifically against children.”
Born in New York City and raised in Massachusetts, Todres volunteered for the Peace Corps after college. He ended up in a small town in Kamphaeng Phet Province in the North of Thailand where he worked on children’s health projects. One particular experience still comes to mind, he said
Todres remembers one day when a malnourished 4-year old boy, whom he had seen before and typically was quiet and reserved, was first to approach him and take his hand as Todres led a group of children across a field.
“I worked in several villages where malnutrition rates were fairly high,” he said. “What struck me was this boy’s sense of trust that this adult who he hardly knew would care of him. That experience carries over to my work today. There are so many vulnerable children in the world. It’s a profound sense of responsibility we have as adults to ensure that these children have the same opportunities we’d want our own children to have.”
After working several years in international health, he decided to pursue a law degree.
He later clerked for Judge Rosemary Barkett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and practiced law with a firm in New York and London.
While at that firm, he handled not just transactional work for companies but also pro bono cases on various family law and children’s rights matters.
But it was in teaching that he found his calling.
After teaching as an adjunct for two years, he transitioned to full time work at a New York City university in 2005. Then in 2007, Todres headed to Atlanta to join the College of Law faculty.
During his career, Todres has written and authored more than 30 articles for academic journals and other publications. He is co-editor of the book, “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: An Analysis of Treaty Provisions and Implications of the U.S. Ratification,” which examines the treaty’s potential national impact.
He recently submitted testimony to a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee on U.S. compliance with human rights law. In addition, his book was the subject of a review, which urged President Barack Obama to “read this book” and called on the U.S. to join the treaty.
Locally, Todres serves on the Governor’s Office for Children and Families’ Task Force on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
“Unfortunately, Atlanta is a center of child trafficking and sexual exploitation,” Todres said. “But fortunately, it is a city with a number of policymakers and child advocates dedicated to doing something about these problems.”
In honor of children’s rights, Todres hopes one day to commission a group of young graffiti artists to paint a canvas that he can hang in his office, “so I will have a colorful reminder of the importance of this work.”
Child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation issues are at the core of Professor Todres’ research. In recent years, he has focused on prevention strategies. “Most efforts today focus on law enforcement or victim assistance,” said Todres. “Although those are important, they both deal with the issue after the harm has occurred.” His work in this area draws upon methodologies from public health and international development. Todres explained, “One of the wonderful aspects of the Center is its great support for interdisciplinary research and thinking. When trying to address the root causes of child exploitation, a multidisciplinary approach is essential.” His latest work, “Moving Upstream: The Merits of a Public Health Law Approach to Human Trafficking,” will be published in the North Carolina Law Review.