GRANBY, Massachusetts – This year has been the “year of fear” for children, according to former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. As the U.N.’s special envoy for global education, Brown made a speech in May about the past year being the worst yet for children worldwide.
More kids than ever before have been forced to become refugees fleeing violence and natural disasters. There has been fighting in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Burundi, South Sudan and northern Nigeria. not to mention two massive earthquakes in Nepal.
Brown pointed out that of the 38 million displaced persons and 16.7 million refugees, over 50 percent are children. And when catastrophes like war and natural disasters occur, it leaves children vulnerable to trafficking. It is horrific that around 8.6 million children are currently in slavery. More than 825,000 children are snatched off the streets and sold. In places like South Sudan, where militant groups are widespread, children are drafted into the ranks, becoming child soldiers.
It is very difficult for kids access a decent education. In many places school is an unsafe environment, or families just cannot afford it. Other times, in order to provide for their families, kids leave school in order to get jobs.
Yet despite Brown’s grave words, there is also a lot to be said about the progress that has been made for children around the world. “Kids have a greater chance of surviving the first five years of life. The percentage of kids in school is high,” says Charles Kenny, who is a long-time associate with the Center for Global Development.
While he agrees that there are still plenty of children living in deplorable conditions, Kenny mentions that there are many ways in which the world has improved for children.
Since 1990, the number of children enrolled in primary school has tripled and rates for literacy for everyone are over 30 percent higher. Many countries are directing more efforts towards establishing and achieving education goals that go further than the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.
The EFA Global Monitoring Report found that 52 percent of countries have succeeded in providing primary education. There are now 50 million more children enrolled in school than in 1999. Moreover, according to Save the Children, governments have made basic education a legal right for nine years. This is up from the previous six-year span.
As for gender equality in education, the gap between boys and girls is almost nonexistent in several developing areas. The rate of female genital mutilation is decreasing, as well as child labor rates.
As Kenny remarked, there has been a 33 percent decrease in the death rate for children under the age of 5. More kids and their families have access to clean water, important medication and vaccines. Since 1965, mortality rates of infants and children has been cut in half. UNICEF reports that more countries are immunizing kids against leading childhood diseases. In only eight years, infant death rates have dropped by 10 percent.
To keep making progress, Brown hopes to initiate the Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies. This would keep children in school even during crises. Keeping children in school is key to eliminating poverty, especially girls. Studies show that when girls attend school, there are significantly fewer cases of child marriages and child abuse.
– Lillian Sickler