30 years of child rights: Historic gains and undeniable achievements, but little progress for the world’s poorest children - UNICEF

Urgent action and a recommitment to child rights needed to address age-old and emerging threats

20 November 2019
Saidi Kazembe, a standard 8 Student at  Mankhokwe Primary School in Chikwawa poses for a picture.
UNICEF Malawi/2019/Moving Minds
Saidi Kazembe, a standard 8 Student at Mankhokwe Primary School in Chikwawa poses for a picture.

NEW YORK, 18 November 2019 – There have been historic gains overall for the world’s children since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted 30 years ago. However, many of the poorest children are yet to feel the impact, according to The Convention on the Rights of the Child at a Crossroads, a new report released today.

Part of commemorations marking the 30th anniversary of the CRC, the report looks at the undeniable achievements of the past three decades, proof that where there is political will and determination, children’s lives improve.  

“There have been impressive gains for children over the past three decades, as more and more are living longer, better and healthier lives. However, the odds continue to be stacked against the poorest and most vulnerable,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “In addition to the persistent challenges of health, nutrition and education, children today have to contend with new threats like climate change, online abuse and cyberbullying. Only with innovation, new technologies, political will and increased resources will we help translate the vision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into a reality for all children everywhere.”

Citing progress in child rights over the past three decades, the report notes that:

  • The global under-five mortality rate has fallen by about 60 per cent.
  • The proportion of primary-school-aged children not in school decreased from 18 per cent to 8 per cent.
  • The guiding principles of the CRC – non-discrimination; the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and the right to protection – have influenced numerous constitutions, laws, policies and practices globally.

However, the report notes, this progress has not been even.

  • In low and middle-income countries children from the poorest households are twice as likely to die from preventable causes before their fifth birthday than children from the richest households.
  • According to recent available data, only half of children from the poorest households in sub-Saharan Africa are vaccinated against measles, compared to 85 per cent of children from the richest households.
  • Despite a decline in child marriage rates globally, the poorest girls in some countries are more at risk today than they were in 1989.

The report also addresses age-old and new threats affecting children around the world:

  • Poverty, discrimination and marginalization continue to leave millions of the most disadvantaged children at risk: Armed conflicts, rising xenophobia and the global migration and refugee crisis all have a devastating impact on global progress.
  • Children are physically, physiologically and epidemiologically most at risk of the impacts of the climate crisis: Rapid changes in climate are spreading disease, increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, and creating food and water insecurity. Unless urgent action is taken, the worst for many children is yet to come.
  • Although more children are immunized than ever before, a slowdown in immunisation coverage rates over the past decade is threatening to reverse hard-won gain in children’s health: Measles vaccination coverage has stagnated since 2010, contributing to a resurgence of the deadly disease in many countries. Almost 350,000 cases of measles were recorded in 2018, more than double the total in 2017.
  • The number of out-of-school children has stagnated and learning outcomes for those in school remain poor: Globally, the number children who are not in primary level has remained static since 2007. Many of those who are in school are not learning the basics, let alone the skills they need to thrive in today’s economy.

To accelerate progress in advancing child rights, and to address stagnation and backsliding in some of these rights, the report calls for more data and evidence; scaling up proven solutions and interventions; expanding resources; involving young people in co-creating solutions; and applying the principles of equity and gender equality in programming. But it also recognizes that while all these elements are necessary to bring about change, our rapidly changing world also requires new modalities to confront emerging opportunities and challenges, and to truly embed the rights of children as a global cause again.

To find these pathways, over the next 12 months UNICEF plans to undertake a global dialogue on what it will take to make the promise of the convention a reality for every child. The discourse will be inclusive, involving children and young people, parents and caregivers, education and social workers, communities and governments, civil society, academia, the private sector and the media. And it will influence the way the organization does business in the future.

“The Convention stands at a crossroads between its illustrious past and its future potential. It is up to us to recommit, take decisive steps and hold ourselves accountable,” said Fore. “We should take our lead from young people who are speaking up and speaking out for their rights as never before, we must act now – boldly and creatively.”


Notes to Editors:

Read the report here: https://uni.cf/CRC-media

Download multimedia content here: https://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AMZIF31URK1

For more information about the Convention on the Rights of the Child visit: https://www.unicef.org/child-rights-convention

Check out the pledge on the CRC by His Excellency, Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of Malawi below: 


On 20th November 2019, Malawi will join the world in commemorating the 30th Anniversary of implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). As we commemorate this day, His Excellency the President, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika wishes all children in Malawi a happy life and a prosperous future.

This commemoration also marks a time that we need as a society to reflect on how we live with children and how we alongside our Government are ensuring the protection and development of children.

His Excellency the President wishes to assure all children, parents and all Malawians that he and his Government will see to it that children are protected and supported to grow into prosperous citizens. As such, President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika commits his administration and the Government to undertake the following;

First, Government will continue formulating and enforcing responsive policies and pieces of legislation that actively promote children’s rights. Those who violate children’s rights will be punished according to the law. 

Second, Government will continue increasing resource allocation to the sectors of service for children. These include Ministries of Education, Health, Gender and other agencies.

Third, Government undertakes to increase children’s participation in decision making process at various levels including children’s parliament. Further, Government will roll out children’s parliament in all districts; promote children corners at community levels; and develop national child participation guidelines in decision making processes.

Fourth, Government will train more Community Child Protection Workers in order to create more skilled human capacity for supporting children at community level.

Fifth, Government will implement mass birth registration by 2021 in order to ensure that every Malawian child is a citize and is duly identified by the state. This will ease various processes for protecting and developing children.

Sixth, Government will take measures to integrate more children from child care institutions to their families or relations. The majority of children in institutions have homes, family or relations: Therefore, Government will continue supporting vulnerable families for them to be able to provide adequate care for their children.

His Excellency the President reiterates that his Government is committed to promoting the rights of children. Above all, the President urges all parents and guardians to always remember to look after our children well so that they grow into responsible citizens.

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