Universal Children’s Day: A bitter-sweet celebration

Today, November 20th, we celebrate Universal Children’s Day.

Children’s rights are at the heart of everything we do at Save the Children, so this is a day of bitter-sweet celebration: celebrating the progress made thus far in fulfilling children’s rights, and doubling down on our efforts to ensure the rights of every last child are protected, promoted and championed.

We live in troubled times, where we keep seeing that the War on Children is not over: all around the world, children’s rights are constantly violated – and in times of conflict we are seeing an alarming increase in some of the most severe violations of children’s rights, like sexual violence and recruitment into armed groups and forces. In times of peace and war, still every 5 minutes in the world a child dies from violence. Many, particularly girls, are not getting a quality education. Children are pushed away from their home, by conflicts, violence and poverty. In Yemen for example, children are starved to death. Climate change is affecting more children who are already living in vulnerable conditions. The rise of intolerance, xenophobia and extremism is shared across all continents, and has direct impacts on some of the most marginalized children, including girls, children with disabilities, children of minority religious or ethnic groups, and LGBTQ children.

This is not only a matter of “the poor countries”. Canada still has so much to do to ensure the rights of ALL its children are respected and protected. As the newly released Canadian Children’s Charter states: “While many Canadians think of this as being one of the best places in the world to raise a child, that simply isn’t true. Canada is ranked as the 8th most prosperous nation, yet we are ranked 25th out of 41 affluent nations for the wellbeing of our children, according to UNICEF.” United Nations human rights initiatives such as the Universal Periodic Review and the Report of the Committee of the Rights of the Child still points to many areas of improvement. For indigenous children, children leaving in care, children living with disabilities or mental health conditions, the struggle for their rights is still a reality. And alarmingly, in Ontario, a decision has just been made to eliminate one of most progressive mechanisms that we had to protect and advance children’s rights: the Ontario Child’s Advocate.

But there is also a lot to celebrate when we think of children’s rights! First, this day marks the anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a revolutionary convention that recognized for the first time in our modern history, that children are citizens, agents of rights instead of subject of protection and care, with a full range of political and civic rights. In Canada, we see a strong commitment from the federal government. Domestically, we now have  our first Canadian Children’s Charter that was just released today, setting a roadmap to “make Canada the best place for kids to grow”. Internationally, Canada’s commitment at the G7 to girls’ education and unlocking the potential of adolescent girls has signaled a welcome willingness to focus progress on some of the most marginalized children around the world, building on the Feminist International Assistance Policy, while also maintaining a vital focus on children impacted by conflict through the Vancouver Principles, an initiative to prevent the use and recruitment of children into armed groups and forces., We are also pleased to celebrate the plethora  of inspiring initiatives led by children and youth, in particular in Canada’s Indigenous communities. At Save the Children we also celebrate the real changes in the lives of children that we are privileged to witness and that we are sharing with a new campaign, #thesmallpicture.

What we celebrate above all is that children are not just the citizens of tomorrow, but citizens of today, and that while we still have a long way to go to ensure that the all the rights of Every Last Child around the world are realized, it is such a wonderful path to walk with them to build our world of tomorrow together.

By Olivia Lecoufle, Child Protection Advisor at Save the Children Canada