Taking stock of children’s rights, 25 years on
By Reza Hossain (UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe)
During a recent visit to the Chingwizi holding camp, I was privileged to witness the birth of a baby boy in a tent set up at the site. I was deeply moved by how in the most difficult of human conditions, there was great jubilation from the people present at the birth of this little boy.
Yet there is no doubt that this baby has a disadvantaged start in life. Born in a makeshift clinic in a family facing an uncertain future, he will have to overcome great odds to become somebody of note in life. On the same day, hundreds of kilometers away, I am certain another baby was born in one of Harare’s private clinics, affordable only to those with affluent means. Two babies, two different worlds.
Such is life, but does it have to be this way? If not, what kind of a future do we want these two babies to inherit? How can the playing field be level for both, enabling each to have an equal though not necessarily the same shot at life? How can the Chingwizi baby’s difficult beginning not prejudice his ending in life?
We live in an increasingly unequal world. The top 20 per cent of the global population enjoys about 70 per cent of the total income and the bottom 20 per cent own a tiny 2 per cent. Two per cent!
Though inequalities are a global problem, they are a problem for each one of us. Because when we fail to make our nation, every nation, a better place for children - when we fail to invest in their health, safety, well-being and education - we are literally shaping our own future and that of our children.
The roots of inequalities may be different, but their manifestations are the same: children and their families are being left behind, sometimes stepped on, as one part of the world, the smaller one, becomes wealthier and the other, comprising the majority, becomes poorer. And these disparities cut across geographical regions, nations, and tribes.
In this era of great technological advancements, it is astonishing that we still have not got the basics right: families are barely able to afford a meal; their children attend poorly-resourced schools, and their babies die from largely preventable diseases. A world with such glaring disparities cannot be at peace with itself.
A child in remote Binga has the same right to be immunized against measles as a child in Borrowdale. A teenager in rural Brazil needs to drink safe water and attend school as her peer in suburban Boston. Different backgrounds, equal opportunities.
This year, we have the chance to take stock and reflect. On 20th November, the world will come together to commemorate 25 years of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. That convention is all about equal rights for all children, everywhere.
More children are no doubt better off now than ever before – more are immunized, more are receiving an education, and more have access to nutrition, water and sanitation. But old problems still persist and new threats to the well-being of children have emerged.
If we look at Africa for example, mortality rates among children under five have decreased by 45 per cent between 1990 and 2012. Great progress, yet half of the world's 6.6 million under-five deaths still occur in Africa. The usual culprits - pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea, which account for 40 per cent of these deaths – are largely preventable and treatable.
But these deaths are rooted in poverty and its offshoots. As Africa records steady economic growth and as its middle class expands, children in poor families are slipping further behind. The World Bank estimates that there are more people living on less than $1.25 a day in Sub-Saharan Africa today - a measure of extreme poverty - than at the turn of the millennium. New ideas and approaches are needed to close these unconscionable gaps.
Nearly 25 years ago, the world made a promise to its children. This year’s anniversary is as much about celebrating the promises kept – the declining infant mortality and rising school enrolments – as it is about reminding ourselves of the work that remains to be done.