In line with tradition dating back to the mid-1950s, the world celebrates – or is expected to celebrate –November 20 as United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day.
In the main, those who mooted the idea wanted to see humankind spend day on initiatives specially tailored to promote international togetherness and awareness among children worldwide as well as improving the welfare of children across the globe.
No wonder, many schools and various other institutions of learning often use the run-up to the Day making special efforts to inform, educate and sensitise children on their rights partly as per national and international declarations, conventions or treaties on those rights.
But is that what we actually saw this time around or indeed on the November 20s of recent years? Hardly so, sadly. To be fair, there was sporadic but mainly low-key reference in the media and at political rallies and other platforms on themes such as the importance of immunisations and breastfeeding. Precious little else.
It is well known that Universal Children’s Day is meant for global observance and individual countries are at liberty to choose an appropriate date for this occasion as well as ways of their choice of marking it. But with the UN General Assembly having adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child as long ago as November 20, 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child a whole 23 years ago, the lot of the world’s children ought to have been many times better today that it actually is.
Add to this the fact that the intervening period has witnessed a plethora of similarly well-intentioned national, sub-regional, regional and continental charters, and the poverty and misery in which millions of children across nations and civilisations still languish becomes all the more confounding.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which effectively entered into force 13 years ago, aptly notes that the situation of most of the continent’s children remains critical owing to their vulnerability in the face of factors like natural disasters, armed conflicts, exploitation and hunger, and they therefore need special safeguards and care.
He charter acknowledges the fact the children need to grow up in a family environment in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding and that, owing to the needs of their physical and mental development, they require particular care with regard to health, physical, mental, moral and social development as well as legal protection in conditions of freedom, dignity and security.
But to what extent those countries that have ratified this particular charter – and indeed any others – live by their solemn affirmation in respect of ensuring that “in all actions concerning the child undertaken by any person or authority the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration”?
While Universal Children’s Day celebrations will keep coming and going, of utmost importance is for people in both individual and collective capacity to ask themselves whether they contribute as much to efforts to help add value to the lives of children as they every so often declare. Surely, this is not demanding too much.