“Around the world, children are showing us
their strength and leadership advocating for a
more sustainable world for all. Let’s build on
advances and re-commit to putting children
first. For every child, every right,”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Last week on Wednesday, November 20, the United Nations marked Universal Children’s Day. Earlier known as World Children’s Day, it was renamed in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day with the intention of promoting “international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide and improving children’s welfare”.
It was on November 20, 1959 that the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and on November 20, 1989 the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Since 1990, World Children’s Day also marked the anniversary of the adoption by the UNGA of both the Declaration and the Convention on Children’s Rights.
Mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses and doctors, government leaders and civil society activists, religious and community elders, corporate moguls and media professionals, as well as young people and children themselves, can play an important part in making World Children’s Day relevant for their societies, communities and nations, the UNGA says.
It says World Children’s Day offers each of us an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children.
This year was extra special, as it marked the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and a time to celebrate and a time to demand action for child rights and to answer the question, how committed are we in doing so?
In the case of Sri Lanka there have been several reported cases of child abuse such as rape, ill-treatment by parents and care-givers; new-born babies being abandoned by unwed mothers to avoid social stigma or even cases of children being thrown into rivers as a result of family disputes or overcome by poverty making it impossible to feed an extra mouth. There have also been several cases of helpless students being beaten by their teachers. A recent case in point was that of a ruggerite of a leading Colombo school, being repeatedly slapped by his coach in public.
Other subtle and elusive forms of child abuse are the difficulties confronted by a child of school-going age when it comes to gaining admission to the grade-1 of a semi-government or private school or for that matter to any school in Colombo or the suburbs without having to ‘donate’ exorbitant sums of money ranging from Rs.300,000 upwards and of course the competitive mind-set instilled by parents in their sons and daughters to do better leave these children with missed childhoods. We hope that the Universal Children’s Day will provide an impetus to the new government headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to focus its attention on redressing this situation while committing itself to safeguarding the rights of every child.
We conclude this column with excerpts from a letter by UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore to the “Dear children of today and of tomorrow.
“Thirty years ago, against the backdrop of a changing world order – the fall of the Berlin Wall, the decline of apartheid and the birth of the World Wide Web – the world united in defence of children and childhood. While most of the world’s parents at the time had grown up under dictatorships or failing governments, they hoped for better lives, greater opportunities and more rights for their children. So, when leaders came together in 1989 in a moment of rare global unity to make a historic commitment to the world’s children to protect and fulfil their rights, there was a real sense of hope for the next generation.
“The children of today are facing a new set of challenges and global shifts that were unimaginable to your parents. Our climate is changing beyond recognition. Inequality is deepening. Technology is transforming how we perceive the world. And more families are migrating than ever before. Childhood has changed, and we need to change our approaches along with it...”
The aforesaid is food for thought that needs to be converted into meaningful action to give our children the necessary space and care so that they can live without fear and uncertainty of the future so that our children could fulfil their aspirations and are not left in the wilderness to fade or wither away as a ‘nobody’s child’.
“Our children are our greatest treasure. They
are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the
fabric of our society and weaken our nation”
– Nelson Mandela