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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
Children Uniting Nations Reception,
Washington D.C.,

Thursday, July 28. 2011

Good evening everyone. Buenas tardes.

Thank you for having me here tonight.

And thank you, Daphna for that kind introduction. It's great to see you.

I'd like to recognize a few of my friends and former colleagues from Capitol Hill here tonight:

  • Congresswoman Karen Bass
  • Congressman Joseph Crowley
  • Senator Robert Menendez

Earlier this year, President Obama spoke to need of caring for children. He said in a proclamation, "Our Nation's children are our hope for the future, and caring for them is one of our greatest responsibilities. Although a strong family is the best deterrent to child abuse, effectively intervening in the lives of children threatened by abuse is a shared responsibility."

It is that shared responsibility that brings us together today. We believe that God-given potential is present in every child born into this world, no matter how poor, and no matter his or her race, class, or geographical origin. And it is our common responsibility to ensure that every child has the right to an education and a childhood free from exploitation.

As the daughter of working immigrants, and one of seven siblings, I experienced first-hand what it means to be given the opportunity, despite the hardship my parents faced, to pursue my dreams. It started with an education.

An education changes everything. But it's really mentorship and guidance that make the biggest difference. I was lucky to have both. First from my parents, who didn't know much about college, but knew I had to get there. And second, from my high school counselor who put a college application in my hand. Many kids today aren't so lucky. But they still deserve to pursue their dreams, and we have an obligation to help them do it. Their future — and the future of this country — depends on it.

That's why this administration will continue to invest largely in after-school programs, better teachers, skills training for youth, and in college-ready curriculum that promotes learning in fields like science, technology, engineering, and math. These are areas where our nation's most vulnerable youth can and need to be learning. But perhaps most importantly, they need to see that a future in these fields — or in any field for that matter — is at least possible. They need role models to help them believe. And we need to make sure that they too can secure the promise of this country.

That's why the mentorship opportunities Children Uniting Nations provides are so important. But we must also step up our efforts to address the lack of sustainable livelihoods for adults. This is critical so that parents can build economic security, adequately provide for their families, and choose education — not labor — for their children.

My Wage and Hour division at the Labor Department are working hard on the front lines of child exploitation. In 2009, my investigators found egregious child labor among blueberry farms in several States across the country. We put a stop to it. And we made sure employers understood the law. But we made sure that the farmers understood it, too. We made sure they knew they have rights out in the fields and that they can and should stand up for them.

We're committed to safeguarding all of our nation's children — no matter where they come from. Our efforts to combat child labor human trafficking aren't only domestic. Earlier this month we made more than $32 million in competitive grants available to combat child labor across the globe. I've been to El Salvador and Nicaragua to sign agreements that promote education and combat child labor. And last year we funded projects to combat child exploitation in commercial agriculture, in sectors such as cocoa production in West Africa, and tobacco and tea production in Malawi.

We're doing a lot at the Department of Labor for children, in many cases because we partner with terrific groups — like this one. Children across the country and all over the globe need our voices and are counting on us now more than ever. We need to be advocates in our communities, and ambassadors for our most vulnerable children. It gives me great pleasure to know that there's an organization like Children Uniting Nations that is helping all of us do that.

Thank you for having me here this evening. And thank you for your good work on behalf of all America's children.