Children today are healthier, better nourished, more educated and more protected in law than at any point in human history. A good thing, considering they make up 30 percent of the world’s population.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which celebrates its 30th anniversary on Wednesday (20 November), is one of the driving forces behind this change.
Children born today are twice as likely to reach their 5th birthday as they were in 1989 – the equivalent of 17,000 fewer child deaths every day. The number of children missing out on primary education has also halved in the last 30 years – from 120 million to 64 million – despite there now being more children on the planet than ever before.
But while the CRC has improved the lives of countless children, many are still not enjoying its benefits.
Over 152 million children worldwide are still trapped in child labour – around half of which are carrying out work which endangers their health, safety or moral development.
Girls especially continue to be denied access to a quality education, with 130 million girls worldwide not attending secondary school, and half of those who do attend not being taught literacy and maths skills to a proficient level. 150 million children are having their physical and mental development stunted by chronic malnutrition.
These ‘left behind’ children are generally living in poorly governed or conflict-affected regions, or belonging to excluded social groups, who governments find it politically convenient to marginalise.
Children’s health is also being increasingly jeopardised by the climate crisis and increasing pollution, making them more prone to disease or displacement after extreme weather events such as cyclones.
Since 1989, we have gained a far clearer idea of what works for children and what doesn’t – and must convert this knowledge into further progress and protection for children. With just ten years left to meet the targets set in the Sustainable Development Goals, children’s rights must become a fundamental aspect of efforts to meet them if we are to succeed.
Governments should begin by investing today in a sustainable tomorrow, by properly funding the structures and systems which safeguard child rights. They must reaffirm their commitment to standing up for children, track progress and prove that they walk the talk when implementing child rights, listen to children’s opinions, and respond to their concerns.
Finally, every government across the globe should make concrete national commitments on how they will improve children’s lives over the next decade.
The CRC has proved that together we can instigate sweeping positive change for children across the globe. But 30 years after its ratification, progress has stalled. The children of today are the adults of tomorrow – and we owe it to them, ourselves and the entire planet to guarantee that every child enjoys every right they are entitled to.
Delphine Moralis is Secretary General of the Terre des Hommes International Federation.