“When there is a problem, we should not stay aside.”
Children speak up for their rights to mark World Children’s Day 2020
“You matter. You are important. Your voices are heard. Keep your hopes up. It is possible to change the world!” Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children, 20 November 2020
One year ago, on 20 November 2019, the world celebrated the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the most ratified human rights treaty, based on original Declaration written by our own founder, Eglantyne Jebb, in 1924.
We were part of these celebrations globally, with each of our country offices marking the moment with children and partners. We also facilitated the participation of four children at anniversary events in Geneva and the children spoke eloquently and passionately on the issues that children faced at that time and how we – the INGOs, actors and decision-makers – could support them to achieve their rights.
Last year, 110 Member States re-committed to the Convention’s key principles through UNICEF’s global pledge[i], namely non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, the right to life, survival and development and respect for the views of the child.
66 Member States also made individual pledges on the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s webpage to uphold children’s rights[ii].
We saw a renewed energy and recommitment to putting child rights at the centre. That included us. Save the Children and our partners, including the children we work with, used the anniversary to host summits, enter into dialogue with civil society and government and publish reports.
In 2020, the promise of the anniversary and plans to leverage the momentum were hit by the curve ball that has winded us all. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world.
For the 31st anniversary, we wanted to hear from children how they felt COVID-19 affected the pledges that were made.
We held a virtual forum to hear from the children who joined us in Geneva last year – Ericka from the Philippines, Masud from Bangladesh and Fleta and Fat from Kosovo – as well as Valeria from Eastern Ukraine and Youri and Deni from Indonesia – on the progress of child rights commitments in their countries over the past year.
Ericka, the Philippines
In Geneva last year, Ericka talked about juvenile justice and advocated for the Government not to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. This year, she told us:
“We are already experiencing a pandemic, with a disease not from a virus, but from poverty, injustice, corruption, turmoil... We will not be able to defeat COVID-19 if we will keep a blind eye to the issues that are already existing… Our sufferings will continue to worsen with this pandemic.
“The Philippines has both advanced and stepped backwards. On the positive side, a bill was passed for the prohibition of child marriage, the Girls not Brides Act.
“Another bill raises the age of statutory rape from 12 to 16 years old.
“But there were also bottlenecks during the pandemic with the unfortunate rapid increase in online sexual exploitation of children; and a controversial anti-terrorism law was passed endangering human rights and civic participation.
“The education system has been unfair and not inclusive.
“Finally, the devastating effects of climate change – with typhoons hitting the country within the past months – caused damage to properties and created more vulnerability to children as they now often have to engage in child labour.
“We should align our priorities. Innovation and creativity are important. Adults need to understand that it is not bad to voice your opinion.”
Fleta and Fat, Kosovo
Last year, for thefirst time ever, two children from Kosovo were allowed to enter the United Nations in Geneva. Kosovo is not an official UN Member State but through our advocacy, we made this possible, leaving no one behind!
In 2019, Fleta and Fat talked about their work as children human rights defenders to ban corporal punishment in all settings in Kosovo and joined the panel discussion with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, Najat Maalla M'jid.
This year, Fleta returned to moderate the children’s session of our virtual forum. She stressed that being a child rights advocate for the last five years, as much as it is an honour, is also a huge responsibility as they are speaking on behalf of those who cannot use their voices and those who do not know they can use their voices.
Masud from Bangladesh joined the panel last year with the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, and talked about his own advocacy to end child marriage.
This year he reiterated the importance of breaking the silence. He reminded us that the rate of child marriage is very high in Bangladesh and they are working on raising awareness online. Because of coronavirus, many children are dropping out of education, physical and mental wellbeing has worsened and – tragically – rape has increased.
Valeria, Eastern Ukraine
This year, we were also joined by Valeria, who represented children from Eastern Ukraine where conflict has been ongoing for more than six years. She said she hoped she was able to influence Ukraine’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration last year after she discussed it with the President of Ukraine – and stressed that we need to continue promoting positive change.
She memorably counselled: “Ask for help! When there is a problem, we should not stay aside.”
Youri & Deni, Indonesia
Youri is involved in the National Children’s Forum of Indonesia and speaks up about education and violence issues, in particular bullying. Youri wants children to be agents of change and stated that the future of Indonesia will be nothing without children’s voices:
He rallied others to “Never give up!”
Deni, also from Indonesia, stressed that children want to see concrete responses from governments once they have expressed their opinions. He mentioned the issue of access to the internet as an example:
“Safe internet access will support children’s right to get decent information- especially in the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The challenge for us is how to make sure the government responds to our views.
“For all children, don't worry, we are all in this together!”
Our role in supporting children to realise their rights globally
Last year, our CEO, Inger Ashing, delivered a pledge on behalf of Child Rights Now – a joint initiative of six child-focused organisations – highlighting the need to hold governments accountable to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to reach the most vulnerable children and to increase meaningful child participation in public-decision making processes.
This year, she stressed that Save the Children has increased children’s involvement in our programme responses – and asked over 30,000 children worldwide about their experiences during the pandemic, and how coronavirus has impacted their lives, in order that we can respond to the issues that concern children the most.
“Your voices are being heard and you are influencing change,” she told the children. “Save the Children will be your partner. If we listen to children more, we will have a better response.”
Our role is to remind decision-makers that the long-term social and economic implications of COVID-19 will hit children the hardest, especially the most deprived and marginalised children.
Let us continue to support children to defend and enhance their rights, call for universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and leave no child behind.