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Rights of the child

November 20, 2014


The writer is Unicef regional director for South Asia.
The writer is Unicef regional director for South Asia.

ON Nov 20, 1989, the world agreed that rights of children needed to be protected. The resulting Convention on the Rights of the Child is ratified by a record 191 States. It is the world’s promise to children everywhere. The year 2014 marks 25 years since the UN General Assembly adopted the convention.

The convention has inspired and guided national legislation, policies and programmes to respect, protect and fulfil child rights in South Asia. Yet, pervasive poverty and inequities prevent millions of children in South Asia from living in dignity and reaching their full potential.

Pakistan ratified the convention in 1990. In recent years, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has welcomed positive developments in relation to child rights in Pakistan, particularly with regard to the ILO convention (No. 138) concerning the minimum age for admission to employment; the adoption of the 2005 Amendment of the Employment of Children Act. The committee has also recognised that grave economic challenges, natural disasters and threats to national security seriously impede progress towards full realisation of children’s rights.

In Pakistan there are still 6.5 million out-of-school children.

In Pakistan there are still 6.5 million children out of school and those in school have poor learning outcomes where one out of two children in the fifth grade cannot read Grade 2-level text in their local language. In Pakistan the death rates within the first 28 days of life in 2012 still stood at 202,000 children.

On this 25th anniversary we ask ourselves, what else can we do to transform the lives of children in South Asia? The response is getting children and their mothers health services, good nutrition and proper toilets. We also need to provide quality schooling and create opportunities for their future. The good news is that we have the know-how and innovative approaches to make positive changes in the lives of children in South Asia.

In South Asia, Unicef’s priorities for 2014-17 are ambitious and important to the development of this region. We envisage that 10 million additional children, especially girls, will attend school at primary and lower secondary level. The percentage of girls who are married before age 18 will be reduced. The neonatal mortality rate will be reduced from 32 to 25 per 1,000 live births. South Asia will have no new polio cases. In addition, 120 million individuals will no longer practice open defecation, and 12 million children will be saved from stunting and its consequences.

Achieving these results and improving children’s lives is urgently needed to transform the future of South Asia.

Our region is at the epicentre of the global stunting crisis. Over 63 million under-five children are stunted; we are talking about 38pc of all the under-fives in the region. The most recent data indicate that over one-third of South Asian women 15-49 years old are underweight or anaemic, two conditions that play against women’s health, leading to the high incidence of low birth weight in South Asia (28pc), and perpetuate the inter-generational transmission of stunting.

South Asia is also the region with the highest number of people who defecate in the open: more than 680 million people don’t use toilets. Sanitation has a strong connection not only with personal hygiene but also with human dignity, well-being, public health, nutrition, education. Children under five are the most vulnerable to the effects of poor sanitation.

Last week, Unicef convened a regional conference called Stop Stunting to call attention to the effect that if South Asia is to make significant strides in reducing child stunting, greater investments will be needed to improve results in three key areas: child feeding, women’s nutrition and household sanitation.

In South Asia, more than two million children die before their fifth birthday and these deaths are preventable. Thirty-eight per cent of all the region’s children have chronic malnutrition. And South Asia is one of the riskiest places in the world to become pregnant or give birth, with the second highest number of maternal deaths worldwide. Far too many children get married, and far too many girls are never born due to son preference.

Therefore a large-scale response is not only necessary, it is urgently needed to stop stunting, end open defecation, bring millions of children into the classrooms, reduce neonatal mortality and end child marriage.

On this special occasion, our appeal is a call to join forces so that no child — boy or girl — in South Asia sees his life or her opportunities undercut because of persistent deprivations.

Borrowing the words of children “we are not the sources of problems; we are the resources that are needed to solve them. We are not expenses; we are investments. We are not just young people; we are people and citizens of this world”.

The writer is Unicef regional director for South Asia.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2014