Health and Human Rights Initiative

About the Program

The Health and Human Rights Initiative promotes the health and rights of marginalized populations affected by armed conflict, displacement, or criminalization. Through applied research and technical assistance, the Initiative partners with affected communities, practitioners, and policymakers to advance sexual and reproductive health, refugee and migrant health, and adolescent health and empowerment worldwide.

Drawing on the Human Rights Center’s 22-year track record and expertise in public health, law, and the social sciences, we plan to carry out the following projects in 2017-2019:


Leaving ‘the Life’: A Study of Factors that Facilitate and Inhibit the Exit of Youth from Situations of Commercial Sexual Exploitation

The Health and Human Rights Initiative will conduct a qualitative longitudinal study of factors that facilitate and inhibit trafficked youth from leaving what is often referred to as “the Life” in the San Francisco Bay Area—one of the top ten high-intensity areas for the commercial sexual exploitation of children. In collaboration with Oakland-based Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploitation Youth (MISSSEY) and other local service providers, we will enroll survivors as study participants and follow them for a period of two years.

California is at a critical point of transition following the recent enactment of new state legislation that ends the criminalization of sexually exploited youth by decriminalizing prostitution charges for minors. These laws represent a shift away from a juvenile justice based approach, toward more holistic, community-based responses. Yet most public health research addressing trafficked youth focuses on individual-level risk factors and health consequences rather than on broader relationship, family, or community-level factors. With the passage of this new legislation, there is an urgent need for research—especially with longitudinal data on contextual factors—that explores the experiences of survivors themselves.

Through in-depth interviews conducted every four months, we will explore factors that facilitate or inhibit survivors’ movement out of situations of sexual exploitation over time. Research findings and recommendations will highlight strategies for creating pathways out of exploitation and for investing in and strengthening family and community resources to support resiliency. The project will culminate in a workshop with service providers, law enforcement, and prosecutors to advance recommendations.


Cash Transfers for Unaccompanied Refugee and Migrant Adolescents in Greece

In response to the thousands of unaccompanied adolescents in need of protection and support in Greece, the Health and Human Rights Initiative, in collaboration with two community-based organizations in Athens—Faros and the Association for the Social Support of Youth, also known as ARSIS—will pilot and evaluate an innovative cash transfer program that combines direct cash assistance with financial literacy education for unaccompanied refugee boys in Greece. More than 2,500 unaccompanied children—mainly adolescent boys from Syria and Afghanistan—have been stranded in Greece without access to adequate housing,

More than 2,500 unaccompanied children—mainly adolescent boys from Syria and Afghanistan—have been stranded in Greece without access to adequate housing, income-generating opportunities, and legal protections. Residing in street encampments, closed reception facilities, or police cells, these minors are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. This situation is particularly dire in Athens where refugee boys trade sex for food, money, clean clothes, or a shower. 

Cash transfer programming is increasingly lauded as an effective and efficient means of meeting the immediate needs of refugees and migrants in ways that maintain dignity and autonomy. Yet unaccompanied minors are regularly excluded from cash transfer programs due to perceived protection concerns and a lack of evidence. Research and international guidance to address this gap are urgently needed.

Faros and ARSIS currently provide counseling, case management, shelter, and other support services to unaccompanied refugee and migrant boys. Working in close partnership with Faros and ARSIS, the Initiative will design a cash transfer program and financial literacy curriculum for unaccompanied refugee and migrant boys. Once implemented, the program’s impact on a range of health and social outcomes related to physical and mental health conditions, exposure to sexual exploitation, and coping mechanisms will be evaluated. The project will culminate in the first published evaluation of a cash transfer program for unaccompanied refugee and migrant children, and offer preliminary guidance for other receiving countries (such as Italy, France, Germany, Malaysia, South Africa, and the United States) faced with the challenge of meeting the needs of this population.


Addressing Child Marriage in Humanitarian Settings

The Health and Human Rights Initiative, in collaboration with Save the Children UK, will conduct a multi-country study of context-specific risk factors and support needs associated with child marriage in displacement settings. The first of its kind, the study will help Save the Children and other relief organizations to design intervention programs to prevent child marriage and assist children already forced into such marriage.

Each year, more than 15 million girls below the age of 18 are married worldwide. Child marriage, driven by a range of social, political, cultural, and economic factors, has long-term, devastating economic and social impacts on families and communities. Child marriage can increase in situations of humanitarian crisis, such as armed conflict, natural disaster, and forced displacement, but efforts to address it and provide adolescent girls with proper health care are consistently left out of humanitarian responses.

The study will take place in three phases. In the first phase, we will conduct a targeted literature review of child marriage interventions in both development and humanitarian settings with a focus on reproductive health. Researchers will also access Save the Children’s global database to analyze mid-term and final evaluations of child marriage programming within the past five years to identify effective practices. During the second phase, researchers will conduct a multi-country study of context-specific risk factors associated with child marriage in refugee or IDP settings in collaboration with Save the Children’s field teams. They will produce a report based on the findings and provide recommendations to inform the design of an intervention. In the third phase, this intervention will be piloted by Save the Children. The Humanitarian and Fragile Contexts Branch of the United Nations Population Fund has endorsed this research and will provide ongoing input and advice. Potential case studies include Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.