The good news: nearly 30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 we have seen ground-breaking progress in children’s health, education and well-being. It was the first time states recognised in an international treaty that children have rights, and this has led to unprecedented gains that transformed the lives of millions.
The bad news: for far too many children, the promises of the convention remain unfulfilled. Over 5 million children under the age of five still die every year due to preventable causes; 60 million children of primary-school age are still out of school; 150 million young children suffer the physical and mental consequences of chronic malnutrition. And we could go on.
These children have something in common: they are the most marginalised and the hardest to reach. They are children living in slums, conflict zones, migrant centres, and remote villages. They are children subjected to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect – often as a result of discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or disability. They are girls, they are disabled children, they are the left-behind, and you can find them in every country.
That’s why we came together as the Joining Forces Alliance, to scrutinise progress on children’s rights, and determine how best to achieve the convention’s promises for the millions of children who suffer daily deprivations.
Our new report, A Second Revolution: Thirty years of child rights, and the unfinished agenda, highlights the challenges faced and provides a roadmap for the way forward. We aim to spearhead a second revolution for children’s rights to reach and include those who are most excluded from progress.
The biggest challenges are two-fold. First, we need to ensure all children are benefiting in areas where there has been major progress, including child survival, health and nutrition, and basic education. The second challenge requires focus, where we have seen the least progress and where many governments have yet to translate the convention’s vision into policy or practice – namely, ending violence against children and protecting children’s civil and political rights.
The convention spurred the adoption of commitments to children within constitutions, laws and policies. But the translation of these commitments into real change for children has been uneven. Establishing a legal foundation to protect children’s rights is only the beginning: fulfilling the vision of the convention requires a broad combination of actions.
Governments must implement policies and programmes that are inclusive of all children; they must invest in services and infrastructure to reach the most marginalised; they must gather the data they need in order to know they are reaching those children; and they must really listen and respond to children.
Investing in children’s rights is one of development’s “best buys,” delivering enormous individual, social and economic benefits, but we need to act now if we hope to break intergenerational cycles of poverty and exclusion, and lay the foundation for a fairer, more sustainable future. If we miss this opportunity, the costs of inaction will be enormous. Our collective failure will be measured not only by wasted human potential and preventable suffering, but also in terms of social instability, foregone economic growth and political volatility.
It is time we stop seeing the children left behind as accidental victims of misfortune, and time for us to challenge our neglect and inaction. National governments must make game-changing clear, concrete and ambitious commitments to realise children’s rights. As the world’s six largest child-focused organisations we will work with them and others to secure children’s rights.
It is time for a new era of commitment, action and justice to realise the vision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child for every child, everywhere.
Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, on behalf of the Joining Forces Oversight Committee
Joining Forces, an alliance of the 6 largest child-focused international NGOs: ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children International, SOS Children’s Villages International, Terre des Hommes International Federation, and World Vision International.
A Second Revolution is available at child-rights-now.org.
Picture: ©Sebastian Delgado C./TDH