NEW YORK — Marking the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, the United Nations Children’s Fund released its report, “Is the World A Better Place for Children?” detailing the progress in children’s rights globally. While the report argues that children are significantly better off than they were in 1989, the year the treaty was adopted, there are still a significant number of children around the world that have not seen an improvement in their lives.
The CRC, adopted November 20, 1989, is recognized as the most widely ratified international treaty in world. There are currently only three countries that have not yet ratified it, South Sudan, Somalia and the United States. The articles laid down in the Convention have served as a springboard for national legislation to protect children’s rights in various countries that previously offered little protection to children as autonomous beings deserving of their own set of human rights.
Reforms include new provisions dedicated specifically to the protection of children in the constitutions of Tunisia, Angola and Bangladesh. Other countries have created children’s human rights institutions such the Office of the Ombudsperson in Peru, which investigated child sexual assault allegations in 2008, and the National Commission for Human Rights in Indonesia, which helped reform laws pertaining to children’s citizenship rights.
Regarding children’s general well-being, the Convention has led to significant progress. The chance that a child will die before his or her fifth birthday has dropped by approximately 50 percent since 1989. According to UNICEF, this reduction can partially be attributed to the improvement in maternal care. In 2012, only 17 percent of women did not meet with a skilled health provider while pregnant compared to 35 percent in 1990.
Access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation systems has also improved in the world, meeting the Millennium Development Goal target long before the 2015 deadline. Currently, 89 percent of the world’s population has access to safe drinking water, although the percentage of people that still practice open defecation is concerning, as it presents a significant health risk to children who may use certain contaminated water sources.
Approximately 54 percent of the world’s children were enrolled in early childhood education programs in 2012. As research continues to show that the first few years of a child’s life are the most important developmentally, emphasis on access to early education programs has become more prominent. Rates of enrollment in primary schools have risen significantly as well, although recent conflicts such as the one in Syria have stalled or reversed much of the progress made in the past 25 years. An estimated 58 million children, primarily in fragile regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, do not attend school.
One of the greatest improvements brought about by the Convention’s adoption, however, is the fact that child poverty has been halved in the past 25 years. The number of children that live in extreme poverty was reduced from 47 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2010, according to the most recent statistics. Increased efforts to focus on multidimensional child poverty and breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty have been successful in bringing the issue of child poverty to the center of policy debates, especially in the European Union.
Despite the unprecedented progress that has been made regarding children’s rights, UNICEF emphasizes there is still much work to be done. As a result, the UN Children’s Fund created the #IMAGINE project in order to bring more awareness to children’s unique human rights. Through the project, musicians and celebrities from around the world created a video set to John Lennon’s “Imagine” in order to highlight the challenges that children still face.
UNICEF also invited ordinary people from around the world to submit recordings of themselves singing or speaking lyrics from the song to create the largest global sing-a-long in history. DJ David Guetta has been chosen to compile the recordings into a massive multi-lingual version of the song, which is expected to be released by the end of 2014.
Other UNICEF initiatives include the 25 Leaders, 25 Voices campaign in Latin America and the Caribbean; the Child Rights in the Digital Future report created by 148 children in 16 countries discussing the impact digital media on children’s rights; UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador Catherine Yen’s advocacy efforts; and the global education for all initiatives championed by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
– Erin Sullivan