Celebrating 25 years of child rights

This year both Madeleine, World Vision UK's Child Rights Policy Officer, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, turn 25. In today's blog Madeleine reflects on the differences brought by 25 years of child rights, and where there is still room for continued growth.

By Madeleine Askham, Child Rights Policy Officer

This year I turned 25 years old. It seems like a great, yet daunting milestone – a quarter century. There’s no more denying it - I am now definitely in my mid-twenties: a fully-fledged adult who has settled into a career, rents her own flat and has been let loose to fend for herself in this big, wide world. But after all, it shouldn’t be a shock. I should be readily equipped to do all that; growing up, I received a decent education, I had access to quality healthcare, a great support system and importantly, a government that cared about and had the capacity to respect my rights.

This year, just like me the Convention on the Rights of the Child is having its 25th birthday. The UN adopted the convention on 20th November 1989, bringing in 25 years of child rights. The adoption was a pivotal moment in human rights history and significantly changed the way the world regarded and treated children. It acknowledged that children require more care and protection than adults, and ensured that anyone under the age of 18 would be entitled to all the things that meant they would have the best start in life. But in addition to that, the convention also recognised that children should be empowered to become active participants in the decisions that affect their lives, their communities and their countries.

In my role as Child Rights Policy Officer, I’ve witnessed time and time again that we shouldn’t underestimate a child’s ability to fight for the change they want to see, not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of their family, community and the wider world. Children are experts in themselves and they have an real understanding of their individual needs and concerns. However, they need their parents, teachers, and community and government to give them the space and opportunity to share and listen to those needs.

There are two recent experiences that come to mind when I start to reflect on the importance of including children’s voices in discussions about their lives.

The first experience was in June this year at the Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The summit, co-hosted by then Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie was the largest ever gathering of governments, civil society, faith leaders and the general public on this topic. World Vision helped send three youth delegates from Kosovo, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the summit to take part in discussions, and to make sure that the voices and opinions of children from the affected areas were heard by decision-makers. These three young women confidently exercised their voices, and their concerns were acknowledged by top decision-makers including William Hague and UN Special Representative to Children in Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui. The youths challenged officials on issues of corruption, whilst emphasising the need for greater protection of children in conflict and support to survivors of sexual violence.

The second example was in August when I was invited to Uganda to attend a workshop to learn about the needs of children who had been born into Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) camps in rural Uganda. The children and their mothers had recently returned to their communities, however they had spent much of their childhoods without access to schooling, healthcare or basic rights and protections. The thing that struck me the most about the children was their determination to have their concerns about their futures addressed. They did not complain about their past experiences, or what they had experienced and witnessed whilst in the LRA camps. Instead their main concern was to go to school without any special treatment and to gain a decent education. They wanted to have the same opportunities as any other child in their communities.This was not what I, or the other adults in the room were necessarily expecting to hear, but now efforts to support those children are better informed and relevant to their goals.

In general, we have made a lot of progress since 1989, and 194 countries have endorsed the convention. Yet children around the world still face challenges to their rights, dignity and very survival. This year, 25 years on from the adoption of the UN CRC, approximately 15 million girls will still be married before they turn 18. About 50% of the people currently displaced by armed conflict and violence are children. There are still an estimated 168 million child labourers across the world and this year almost seven million children will lose their lives to preventable diseases.

It’s clear that whilst vast achievements have been made, there is still a lot of work to be done. We must ensure that governments and individuals work for and with children to fulfil their rights, particularly their right to be heard and to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, World Vision invited 25 children from around the world to express what the convention and child rights mean to them. The report Writing for Rights: Letters from the World’s Children can be found here.

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