Hi all, congratulations! Today is your day and you need to celebrate.

What? Why? Have you forgotten? Today is Universal Children’s Day and time to celebrate. On this day, i.e. November 20, in 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and on the same date in 1989, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That means this day is all about the importance of children and their special rights and freedoms that will help them to grow into happy, healthy adults. In short, it is a day to promote the welfare of children.

You have heard elders talk about their rights, what benefits and privileges they ought to get, the respect they deserve from others, access to proper healthcare and employment, the right to express themselves, etc. They get upset when they don’t get these rights and even protest about it.

Similarly, you too have your rights — right to education, healthcare, healthy and nutritious food that help you grow physically and mentally, proper facilities to play and participate in sports, a safe environment where you are free from all threats and harm, and the right to be loved and taken care of.

Most of you are lucky enough to have a home to live in with your parents, who take care of your needs, you go to school and look forward to higher education, are taken to a doctor when you fall sick even with cough or cold, and have all other facilities — a comfortable bed to sleep in and watch TV and play games. You don’t have to worry about your next meal as you know your mum will make something you like or you can ask her to make something special.

However, unfortunately, all children are not as lucky. You must have heard and even seen young children working in homes, workshops and hotels, and some even begging for food and money; they often have nowhere to sleep or play except on the roadsides. According to estimates, there are about 153 million children between the age of five and 14 in the world who are forced to work as child labourers.

It is sad and may come as a shock to some of you that sometimes children are even kidnapped and maimed, and forced to beg on the streets. And to add to the horror of it all, in some countries that are engaged in ongoing conflicts children are also recruited as child soldiers to fight alongside older people. In conflict areas, even those who are not forced to fight feel the impact of war badly as they often have to miss school, or may even lose a parent or a loved one.

When children are caught in difficult situations, they have no chance that their rights would be fulfilled. In fact, most are not even aware that they have any rights. They wake up in the morning and, often without breakfast or just a cup of tea, rush to their place of work so as not to be scolded by their employer. It is sad that when children are forced to work due to their circumstances. People often mistreat them, forgetting that they are children, are weak and more liable to make mistakes. They should not, under any circumstances, be expected to work like adults.

These child labourers often want to go to school, but their circumstances do not allow them. They dream of wearing a smart uniform and bag in hand go to school as they see other children do, but their dreams remain unfulfilled. They often are not taken to a doctor unless they are seriously ill, as their parents can’t afford to do so. While living on the streets or in shanty houses, they are more liable to accidents and harm.

Even if children are not forced to work, in many instances, their rights are not met and they are denied opportunities for education, healthcare, nutritious food and a safe environment. Their parents are unable to ensure their well-being because of poverty or other circumstances.

When denied these basic rights, children are unable to grow up to be happy, healthy adults. Their potential remains unexplored, locked within them, and in future they are not able to fulfil their responsibilities as adults and parents. For example, if they didn’t have a chance to get proper education, they may not realise its importance, or their circumstances (as because of lack of education they may not get a good job) may not allow them to educate their children, and thus, in turn, denying them their right to education.

Universal Children’s Day is a day to celebrate children and to create awareness around the world about the rights of the children and stand up for those who are denied their rights and have to face discrimination, abuse, exploitation and violence, whether physical or psychological.

On this day, world leaders and leaders of every country should think about the conditions of children and what needs to be done to improve their lot for them and the future of the country. It is the day when leaders should pledge to protect the rights of the children, end child labour and violence against children and guarantee access to education and healthcare. It is time to create awareness regarding the problems children face around the world and take collective actions to improve the welfare of all children.

To protect the children, Unicef and its partners expect the governments to adopt policies that include ensuring that all children have a chance to learn and, that too in such a way that the digital divide is also closed. They should also guarantee access to health and nutrition services, and ensure that all children are vaccinated against preventable childhood diseases, and support and protect the mental health of children and young people.

Steps need to be taken to bring an end to abuse, gender-based violence and neglect in childhood; ensure access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene and address environmental degradation and climate change. Government policies should include steps to reverse the rise in child poverty and ensure an inclusive recovery for all, as well as redouble efforts to protect and support children and their families living through conflict, disaster and displacement.

What you can do

While, as every year, you participate in various activities such as singing, dancing, stage dramas, speech and declamation contests with zest and vigour regarding Children’s Day and decorate your school and class with multi-coloured ribbons and balloons, etc., don’t forget two things:

1) Be thankful that you have the chance to enjoy all the facilities and rights and always be mindful of those who are not as privileged as you are, try to help them in whatever way you can;

2) You owe it to your future generations (not just your children, but all the world’s children) to leave a better world where all children enjoy their rights as recognised by the world leaders in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Published in Dawn, Young World, November 20th, 2021

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