20 Years - The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Dr. Ernest C. Madu

Investment and Development Will Secure the Rights of the Child

Twenty years after the United Nations agreed on a set of international standards for child rights by adopting the Convention on the Rights of the Child, millions of children around the world are still at risk from poverty, deprivation, disease, hunger, pollution and a wide range of natural and human-made disasters.

About half of the world’s 2.2 billion children live in poverty, and 300 million go to bed hungry each night. On average, 24,000 children under the age of five die every day, most from preventable causes, with undernutrition contributing to about one-third of these deaths. Millions of children are denied primary education, and hundreds of millions have no access to safe drinking water or decent sanitation facilities.

Reducing children’s vulnerability to these risks is crucial to building a better world for them. The United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI) measures a country’s average achievements in life expectancy, knowledge and living standards on an annual basis. Alarmingly, this indicator has fallen in most developing countries over recent years, despite the international development community’s efforts to advance the Millennium Development Goals, which aim at cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015 and increasing access to health care and education, among other goals.

The Child Development Index, developed by Save the Children UK in 2008, combines performance measures specific to children in the areas of education, health and nutrition. By this assessment, sub-Saharan Africa lags behind other regions of the world, reflecting the highest levels of deprivation in essential primary health care and education services. In 2008, the region’s under-five mortality rate stood at 144 per 1,000 live births, more than double the global average of 65 per 1,000 live births. In the same year, roughly 50 per cent of the 8.8 million deaths among children under the age of five occurred in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

Shifting the focus to family welfare and education
It is time to reconsider the modus operandi of international development for children and to revitalize anti-poverty programmes to focus on results, investment and sustainable development. Among the surest ways to improve children’s prospects is to empower parents. Improving parents’ standard of living will benefit children and serve as an investment in their future. By securing the rights of today’s children and their families, we are also safeguarding the rights of tomorrow’s parents.
Education is the bedrock upon which all globally competitive nations and societies stand, and it is critical to reducing risk factors such as poverty and poor health. It enables the use of new technologies, creating and spreading knowledge, opportunity and wealth – key elements that parents in poorer nations lack.

Education and employment rates often reflect levels of development, prosperity and security. Higher literacy and employment offer the prospect of a future devoid of poverty and disease. Addressing the plight of vulnerable children around the world will therefore demand an examination of the nexus between threats to children and levels of literacy, health and employment in the adult population. Economic prosperity increases opportunities for citizens and lowers the risks to children. Economic development offers an opportunity to create sustainable solutions to support children’s rights. It must therefore be integral to our response as we seek to secure better futures for the world’s children in the twenty-first century.

Dr. Ernest C. Madu, an internationally respected authority on sustainable health systems in low-resource environments, underscores the problems in health faced by children in developing countries. In order to improve their situation and increase their educational opportunities, he recommends shifting the focus to empowering parents economically.

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