Policy advocacy and partnerships for children's rights

UNICEF and partners commemorate 20 years of Convention on the Rights of the Child

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2101/Markisz
UNICEF’s Executive Board President, Ambassador Oumar Daou (far left), UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman (third from left) and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) join civil society representatives at the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the CRC, held at UN headquarters in New York.

By Val Wang

NEW YORK, USA, 20 November 2009 – Today at the United Nations, UNICEF and its partners commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the ground-breaking human rights covenant that codifies rights for all children, everywhere.

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The global commemoration and a panel discussion, held in the Trusteeship Council chamber, looked back at the progress made on child rights under the CRC and looked forward to the future.

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses participants at the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the CRC.

‘Fundamental human rights’

On 20 November 1989, the United Nations adopted the CRC, the first legally binding international instrument that incorporated the full range of human rights for children – including the rights to survival, health, protection, education and full participation in family, cultural and social life. Since then, 193 countries have ratified the treaty.

“Over the past 20 years, the Convention has been our beacon, our template, our guide in protecting and nurturing the youngest and most vulnerable members of society,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Added UNICEF’s Executive Board President, Ambassador Oumar Daou: “The Convention contributed to changing attitudes towards children and the promotion of the fundamental human rights that children should enjoy.”

Achievements and challenges

UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War Ishmael Beah moderated the commemoration. At 13, Mr. Beah was recruited to fight in the civil war in his home country, Sierra Leone.

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2095/Markisz
UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War Ishmael Beah addresses participants at the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the CRC.

“Before, during and after my experiences of the war, I didn’t know that I had rights as a child,” he said. “But I later learned that it was because of the Convention and the organizations committed to implementing it that I was removed from the war and placed in a rehabilitation centre. And that made my presence here today possible.”

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman outlined the achievements of the past two decades – including reductions in child mortality, child trafficking and recruitment of child soldiers, and increases in school enrolment, access to safe water and the legal age of marriage for girls in many nations.

However, Ms. Veneman also spoke about meeting children who had been forced into prostitution, armed conflict and early marriage, and young people victimized by sexual violence. There is still a long way to go, she said, before these unspeakable violations of child rights are a thing of the past.

Young people seek positive change

Youth activists at today’s event offered their perspectives on the CRC, as well. They spoke about the discrimination, violence and lack of opportunity they have witnessed in their countries – and about their own efforts to bring about positive change in their communities.

The 2008 International Children’s Peace Prize winner, Mayra Avellar Neves, 18, recalled leading a march in protest of the violence in the ‘favela’ where she lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The protest prompted the re-opening of schools in her neighbourhood.

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2100/Markisz
UNICEF’s Executive Board President, Ambassador Oumar Daou (far left), and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) join youth representatives at the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the CRC.

“Can you imagine how it is to live your daily life with a war going on in front of your door? Is it fair that we have to wake up under the sound of bullets? Children have the right to protection,” she said.

Mayra and the other young people on hand challenged adults to take further action on child rights.

“Children don’t just want resolutions. Children want solutions,” said Millicent Atieno Orondo, 17, of Kenya. “We don’t want to hear any good intentions. We want to see actions. Remember, you owe us our rights, so keep your promises.”

Civil society panellists

Ms. Veneman also moderated an interactive panel featuring civil society leaders from around the world, including:

  • Ioana Maria Barbu, founder and President of a Romanian NGO that promotes youth leadership
  • Emilio Jeroo Billimoria, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization Aflatoun International
  • Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe
  • Archbishop Felix Machado, a member of the planning committee for the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children
  • Garcia Mendez, child-rights expert and member of the National Parliament of Argentina
  • Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics.

The leaders emphasized the need for a commitment from all sectors of society – from policy-makers to families and educators – to transform the CRC from words on paper into real change for all the world’s children.

“The UN Convention has a compelling message, but it is not just for governments,” said Mr. Shriver. “It is for young people. It is for civil society. The new power of enforcement is bottom up, not top-down.”


 

 

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20 November 2009:
UNICEF correspondent Val Wang reports on the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
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