Photo: Children raise their hands to answer a question in class at a UNICEF learning space in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (8 July 2019). Credit: UNICEF Patrick Brown - Photo: 2019

Odds Still Stacked Against Poorest Children

By Sean Buchanan

NEW YORK (IDN) – Although there have been historic gains over the last 30 years in improving children’s lives, urgent action is needed if the poorest children are to feel the impact, warns a new UN report.

The report, published on November 18 by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and released ahead of World Children’s Day on November 20, calls on countries to recommit to promises made under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, noted that while increasing numbers of children are living longer, better and healthier lives, the odds continue to be stacked against the poorest and most vulnerable.

“In addition to the persistent challenges of health, nutrition and education, children today have to contend with new threats like climate change, online abuse and cyberbullying,” she said.

“Only with innovation, new technologies, political will and increased resources will we help translate the vision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into a reality for all children everywhere.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely and rapidly adopted international treaty in history. To date, 196 countries have ratified the convention, with the exception of the United States of America, which has nonetheless signalled its intention to ratify with its signature.

It acknowledges childhood, which lasts through age 18, as a special time in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity.

UNICEF reported that since its adoption, the global rate for under-five mortality has dropped by around 60 percent, while the proportion of undernourished children has almost halved.

The Convention has also influenced numerous constitutions, laws and policies that reflect its guiding principles, which include non-discrimination, the right to protection and acting in the best interests of the child.

However, the report shows that progress has not been even.

The poorest children are still likely to die from preventable causes before reaching their fifth birthday. Millions of the most disadvantaged are still at risk due to poverty, discrimination and marginalisation. At the same time, cases of the childhood killer measles are on the rise as immunisation coverage rates have slowed down since 2010.

Progress in education also is dismal. The report reveals that the number of primary level children out of school has remained static for more than a decade.

“Many of those who are in school are not learning the basics, let alone the skills they need to thrive in today’s economy,” UNICEF added.

In recent years, young people have been speaking up and calling for action to address climate change. UNICEF said they are the ones most at-risk.

“Rapid changes in climate are spreading disease, increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, and creating food and water insecurity. Unless urgent action is taken, the worst for many children is yet to come,” the UN agency warned.

The report calls for more data and evidence to accelerate progress and advance child rights, alongside recommendations such as involving young people in creating solutions, and UNICEF has said it will use the coming 12 months to promote an inclusive global dialogue aimed at making the promise of the convention a reality for all children.

UNICEF’s Fore said: “The Convention stands at a crossroads between its illustrious past and its future potential. It is up to us to recommit, take decisive steps and hold ourselves accountable.”

In late September at a commemorative event held at UN headquarters to celebrate the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that since its adoption, the Convention has created “unprecedented international solidarity around children’s rights.”

The Convention is the most widely-ratified international human rights accord in history; a landmark achievement which meant “for the first time, governments explicitly recognised that children have the same human rights as adults”, said Guterres, adding that the document put in the spotlight the “specific additional rights that recognise their special status as dependents.”

Government actions and inactions, said Guterres, “have a greater impact on children than on any other group in society” as he urged all UN Member States “to give it their full backing.”

Since the Convention was born, more children than ever before are receiving necessary protection and support: deaths of children under the age of five have fallen by half, and so has the number of children without adequate nutrition.

Also speaking at the event, UNICEF’s Executive Director Fore highlighted that the changes children face today “were unimaginable to children in 1989”, pointing to a changing climate, rising inequality, and protracted conflicts as drivers of the new wave of young advocates.

“Childhood is changing and so must we”, she urged, assuring children in the audience, “you have the rights to health education and protection, you have the rights to make your voice heard, you have the right to a future.”

Looking forward, countries must invest in “those who carry the future forward”, and not only listen to children and young people, “but work with them to achieve the change they want to see.”

“Let us support them, let us take action with them, and 30 years from now let us look back on this time as a time when the world committed, and put concrete programmes in place to keep our promises to children and young people.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 November 2019]

Photo: Children raise their hands to answer a question in class at a UNICEF learning space in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (8 July 2019). Credit: UNICEF Patrick Brown

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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