Reimagining a better future for every child

Op-ed by Ilaria Carnevali, UNICEF Representative a.i. on the occasion of the World Children’s Day

Ilaria Carnevali, UNICEF Representative a.i.
19 November 2020

Today is World Children's Day. It reminds us of the importance of guaranteeing and ensuring the respect for the rights of every child, now more than ever, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

For more than 30 years, we have been celebrating on this day the progress made in education, health, nutrition, access to drinking water and sanitation, hygiene and child protection.

The past years have been an exceptional journey for children in Niger. The country has made progress in advancing children’s and women’s rights. Today, children in Niger have a greater chance of reaching their fifth birthday than ever before. Being able to go to school is now a reality for many more children. 

However, much more needs to be done to create a supportive and protective environment for children and future generations. Not every child gets to enjoy a full childhood. Still, too many childhoods are cut short. The journey from a mother’s womb to the vulnerable adolescent years is fraught with risk and challenges. 

Niger continues to face simultaneous emergencies that are stretching the capacities of the government and humanitarian partners to respond adequately. Children in Niger face malnutrition, recurrent disease epidemics and outbreaks, cyclical floods, drought and displacement. The situation is exacerbated by instability, resulting in an influx of thousands of refugees, returnees, internal displaced persons and migrants, all needing access to basic social services for survival.

UNICEF Niger/Juan Haro/2020

The year 2020 is not a year like any other. Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our daily lives. COVID-19 is causing appalling consequences for young people and children at all levels. The right to health and education is threatened. The right to well-being and to protection is weakened.

In countries facing humanitarian crises like Niger, the COVID-19 outbreak is creating significant additional pressure on an already overburdened health and social service delivery systems and exacerbating vulnerabilities in affected populations. Hard-won progress in advancing children's rights has been threatened.

At the same time, the pandemic has also revealed the potential that exists in the country. Young people have made innovations to overcome this crisis, the country has managed to contain the spread of the virus. We now have a crucial window of opportunity to reinvent ourselves and reimagine the future for every child.

At this critical moment, more than ever, we must remain united so that World Children’s Day puts the rights of the child back at the heart of all priorities.

Any action taken must prioritize the needs of the most marginalized children and young people – including girls; those facing poverty, exclusion, or violence; children with disabilities; children affected or displaced by humanitarian crisis; or children without parental care.

We must redouble our efforts to:

  • Ensure all children learn, including by closing the digital divide
  • Guarantee access to primary health care and make vaccines affordable and available to every child
  • Support and protect the mental health of children and young people and bring an end to abuse, gender-based violence, and neglect in childhood
  • Increase access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene and address environmental degradation and climate change
  • Reverse the rise in child poverty and ensure an inclusive recovery for all
  • Redouble efforts to protect and support children and their families living through conflict, disaster and displacement

In all the above six points, we must prioritize one critical step: listening to children and young people and including them in decision-making. They will be living with the impact of this pandemic and must be included in decisions that affect their future.

We must commit to reimagining a fairer and sustainable future for every child. We must fight this fight together to put children first, because every child has the right to a childhood.

For every child, every right