Today, 20 November, marks Universal Children’s Day, observed around the world to bring attention to the many issues still facing children all over the world, but also to celebrate the immense potential and power that lies within them. The date, 20 November, marks the day when the United Nations General Assembly adopted first the Declaration on the Rights of the Child in 1959 and then the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on that same date in 1989. The Convention, which forms the basic framework for protecting the rights of children and ensuring a basic minimum level of well-being for them, is the most widely ratified UN convention – today, it has been ratified by every single United Nations member country except for the United States.
The CRC spells out the basic rights and entitlements all children in the world – that is, all people below the age of 18 – should have access to. This includes things like right to life and protection, right to nationality, right to basic health care and education, right to freedom of expression, and many others. Girls and boys, however, experience this world differently often from the day they are born, and while the CRC does not differentiate between girls and boys but consistently talks about all children, it is important to recognize that different challenges impact girls and boys differently, and therefore the solutions we create must be tailored to adequately account for those gender differences. While in some cultures boys might be subjected to more physical violence and corporal punishment than girls, in other places girls might be prevented from accessing health care services or education because of them being considered to be of lesser value than boys. The CRC is a legal tool for us to hold governments and duty bearers accountable, but we also have to ensure that we truly reach all children with our efforts: girls, boys, rural, urban, disabled, indigenous.
The CRC is about more than mere survival – it’s about ensuring that all children get to be born, receive a fair chance at a healthy life, and a possibility to develop, thrive and blossom. Imagine what that world would be like – a world where no child would have to die because lack of proper healthcare, where no child would be prevented from getting an education because of poverty, where no child would face violence in the hands of their caregivers or relatives or teachers or anyone else, and no child would be trafficked. Imagine what kind of adults those children would become – the ones who are able to live healthy, be educated, be taken care of and loved. By taking care of children today, we’re making a bigger investment in the future of our entire planet than through any other action. Taking care of our children is absolutely a moral obligation and without a doubt the right thing to do – but it is also essential for protecting our planet, our societies and our future. There’s no “bigger bang for our buck”, no better “trickle down effect”, no issue more important to invest our funds, our time, and our efforts than the well-being, health, education and development of children, everywhere in the world, every single day.
Images courtesy of UNICEF Ethiopia.