In 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1). We — as a global community — thus began to hold these truths to be self-evident, that the children of the world hold unalienable rights to protection, education, health care, shelter, and good nutrition. And yet, of the two billion children across the globe today, many are actively denied a fair chance at Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for no reason other than the country, gender, or circumstances into which they are born.
Children make up approximately a third of the world's population but over 50% of the world's extreme poor. According to the World Bank-UNICEF analysis, 1 in 5 children — around 385 million — across the globe lives in extreme poverty, with an estimated 22,000 dying every day from limited access to resources (2). As Children Incorporated’s Director of Development Shelley Callahan says, “Poverty means more than a lack of income. It also means a lack of resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods, such as food, clothing, clean water and proper shelter” (3)
Poverty’s impact on children — malnutrition, homelessness, increased familial and community responsibilities or burdens — goes hand in hand with a child's education. Malnutrition can lead to permanent physiological damage causing the development of difficulties in their learning abilities and concentration due to hunger. Children experiencing homelessness lack a critical form of stability and support. Not to mention that of the nearly 2 billion children across the globe, approximately one-third are not in school nor employed (4), as children raised in impoverished households face higher risk of dropping out of school to help their families and communities or don’t attend school at all. Nevertheless, even when children are attending school, the quality of education might be limited or poor, causing them to leave school without mastering necessary numeracy or literacy skills. As a result, the child's possibility to break the cycle of poverty in which they live or achieve their full academic and professional potential is stunted.
Another grave global violation against the rights of children is the way in which they have become frontline targets in times of war. In 2019, it was reported that approximately 69% of children were living in a conflict-affected country with about one in six living in a conflict zone (5). War time means children are killed and/or maimed as well as recruited by armed forces and groups. In 2017, the UN verified upwards of 10,000 cases of children being physically harmed and deceased due to conflict (6). Schools and hospitals are attacked while children of war live with the terrifying threat of sexual exploitation, as 1 in 6 children in conflict zones are at risk of sexual violence by armed groups. Additionally, children are abducted — in 2017, there was a 70% increase in child abductions (7) — as well as denied access to humanitarian aid. Though thousands of kids have been released from armed conflict, millions of children are unaccompanied or separated from their families as well as displaced by armed conflict facing a high risk of grave violations in and around areas of refuge. These figures of violences also underscore the importance of emotional and mental violence against children of war.
According to the United Nations, one billion children all over the world experience some form of violence every year, be it physical, emotional, or sexual. Unfortunately, one child dies from violence every five minutes (8). This violation of the child's rights knows no bounds, as it occurs in institutions, in schools, and at home. In this age of technology peer violence is at an all time high as children suffer from new forms of violence across the screen — like cyberbullying. It’s estimated that 7.9% of men and 19.7% of women across the globe have experienced sexual abuse prior to the age of 18 (9). What’s more, though, is that according to the World Health Organization, children who have experienced forms of violence or neglect are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health conditions, due to negative coping and health risk behaviours such as smoking, misuse of alcohol and drugs, and engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour (10).
Things we don’t normally associate with children or childhood are actually crucial to the development and growth of the world's kids. Socioeconomic equity, war, and all kinds of violence detrimentally impact the possibility for the minor to attain their fundamental rights. The world needs more spaces where its children are offered the fullest extent of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To do this, though, we must first sharpen the lens through which we view the world's children. They are more than passive beings of care and charity, but rather are human beings with distinct, unalienable rights.
In countries, both developed and underdeveloped, the rights of the child are violated every day — by poverty, conflict, and violence — suspending the world's children in a state of distress. While we can say that much has been done in an attempt to remedy these violations, we must also realize that the global community still has much left to do. We must confront the issues of global socioeconomic inequality, world hunger, war, and violence — sexual, physical, and emotional — in order to ensure the child's rights to health, education, shelter, and prosperity. The state of our world’s children can be improved and prevented by systematically addressing the individual, relationship, community, societal, and global, risk and protective factors.
It’s time we recommit ourselves to the advancement of our kids. Children are the key to the world’s success, and successful societies invest in their children by fiercely protecting their rights.