The United Nations has set aside November 20 of every year as the “Universal Children’s Day.” According to Article I of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the General Assembly on November 20, 1989 and came into effect on September 2, 1990, a child is defined as “every human being below the age of eighteen.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child seeks to promote and protect the human rights of every child. Presently, most member states of the UN are participants of the Convention (except for the United States, Somalia, and South Sudan). Additionally, more than 150 member states have also ratified the Convention.
In May 2000, the UN adopted two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The first was the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict, which aimed to protect children from being recruited as soldiers in conflict or war situations either by the government or non-state actors. The Second Optional Protocol dealt with issues relating to the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
In order to ensure compliance, the UN General Assembly also established a Committee of independent experts to monitor the implementation of the Convention and Protocols by member states. The monitoring procedures were broadened with the approval of the creation of the Third Optional Protocol on Communication Procedure on December 19, 2011. This additional protocol made provisions for individual children to submit complaints regarding specific violations of their rights under the Convention and its two protocols.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts made by the UN General Assembly and some of the UN related agencies to ensure the safety of children around the world, and despite the fact that most member states are contributors to the convention and protocols (as an overwhelming majority have ratified these mandates), millions of children around the world are still far from enjoying the rights enshrined in the convention and millions more continue to live in very abusive and dehumanizing situations. As the date draws closer for the commemoration of Universal Children’s Day, it is therefore an appropriate time to reflect on the plight of children whose childhoods have been stolen from them because they have been subjected to becoming child soldiers, prostitutes, cheap laborers, and also given into child-marriages or used as pornographic objects by adults.
It is also time to consider the manner in which one can contribute to bringing about the elimination of all forms of child abuse in our world.The first place to begin is to educate oneself on the individual’s government policies with regard to the protection of children’s rights in a given country, and how these policies are being implemented. Ask yourself the following questions. Is your country party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and has it ratified its mandates? What does the constitution of your country say about the different aspects of children’s rights? Does your country’s constitution resonate with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocols? If yes, are they being implemented? If no, can you do something to influence a policy implementation or change to uphold the rights of children? One way such change can be accomplished is by putting pressure on the local parliamentarian through utilizing various means to raise awareness, promote advocacy, and inform government officials, the public, and communities of the plight of children. One can also enlist the help of a local NGO in the area that is especially interested in promoting the Right of the Child. Almost everyone can do something to ensure the safety and human rights of children in our world. Therefore, the next time you notice any form of child abuse, you can report this incident to the law enforcement agents, social workers, or child welfare officers to be proactive in fighting for the rights of children.