justice for children
by Jo Becker with Rachel Lapp
Jo Becker '85 is the Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human
Rights Watch, an organization that conducts systematic investigations
of human rights abuses in about 70 countries around the world including
the United States. The Children's Rights Division focuses specifically
on abuses against children, including abusive child labor, the use
of children as soldiers, conditions in institutions (including detention
centers and orphanages), police abuse against street children and
"My job is to work for an end to these abuses by raising their
visibility in the media and with the public," said Becker,
"working on campaigns and trying to influence decision-makers
... to change policies and practices."
Becker was interviewed by Linda Wertheimer on National Public Radio's
June 12, 2001, broadcast of "All Things Considered" about
the organization's report that about 300,000 children under the
age of 18 are actively participating in armed conflicts in over
40 countries around the globe (see the archives of "All Things
Considered" at www.npr.org).
"The work I'm doing is important to me because I believe I
have a responsibility to respond to the injustices in the world.
I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to work for positive
change. [It] can be enormously rewarding," Becker continued.
"The work can also be difficult and discouraging when despite
your best efforts, some things don't change. But I'd rather work
for the things I believe in [than] be passive."
After attending an international school in Canada and studying in
China, Becker transferred to GC as a junior. This combination, she
says, helped lead her to devote her career to working "for
peace, justice and human rights."
Becker, a psychology major, noted that an influential part of her
Goshen experience was working with the Peace Society (now Pax Club)
and Goshen Student Women's Association. "We organized a lot
of campus events and activities, including a petition drive against
U.S. intervention in Central America, a convo on women's spirituality
and a bus to go to an anti-nuclear rally in Chicago," she said.
Through an assignment for a women's studies class, she learned many
of the "organizing skills that one needs as an activist."
Instead of writing a final paper, Becker and a classmate coordinated
a one-day conference on women and health.
During Becker's senior year, Professor of Bible and Religion Don
Blosser encouraged her to investigate an internship with Fellowship
Of Reconciliation in New York, an interfaith peace and justice organization
since 1915 bringing together Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists
and others committed to nonviolence. Becker spent 12 years with
the FOR - first as an intern working on youth and militarism issues,
then as a staff member coordinating youth programs and a liaison
to local chapters. After a sabbatical to earn a master's degree
in political science at Syracuse University, Becker served for four
years as FOR's youngest - and first female - director.
Among the significant projects Becker was involved in while at FOR
Organizing annual youth delegations to the former U.S.S.R. between
1986 and 1990 for a reconciliation program; several Goshen students
took part in this "citizen diplomacy" initiative.
A speaking tour of Soviet veterans of the Afghanistan war who had
come to believe that war was wrong; the tour involved several states,
including a visit to GC.
Heading up a delegation of FOR members that traveled to Japan for
the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombings. Seven thousand Americans
signed an open letter of repentance, apologizing for the suffering
caused by the bombing, which she presented to the mayor of Nagasaki
and city officials in Hiroshima.
A main focus of her current work with Human Rights Watch has been
an international campaign to end the use of child soldiers. Said
Becker, "Human Rights Watch joined with a number of other organizations
- including Amnesty International, the Quaker United Nations Office
and Save the Children, among others - to get this issue into the
media, organize conferences and research from campaigns in about
30 countries. I was particularly involved in trying to shift the
position of the United States, which was initially opposed to the
In July of last year, after a U.N. treaty was negotiated on recruitment
and the combat use of child soldiers, Becker was invited to a ceremony
to see President Clinton sign an agreement on behalf of the United