It was very disturbing to read that in the USA, the world’s largest economy, the miniscule super rich are steadily growing richer, while child poverty is on the rise. And there has been a lot of finger pointing, as the US is now the only country in the world which has not ratified the UN Convention on Rights of the Child.
So what exactly is the Convention on Rights of the Child (CRC), and has it been followed both in letter and spirit in the countries where it was ratified, with such alacrity, nearly a quarter of a century ago?
The CRC is based on other Human Rights Conventions, and a wide range of indicators are regularly measured to make sure that all children’s rights mentioned in the Convention are being realized. The source agency for this data is, of course, UNICEF.
So let us take a quick look at what the CRC expects, and the reality on the ground:
CRC: Birth registration and migration: Every child has the right from birth to a name, a nationality and to know and be cared for by parents.
Fact: Worldwide, 79 per cent of the richest children under the age of 5 have their births registered, but only 51 per cent of the poorest enjoy the right to an official identity. And while 80 per cent of children living in cities are registered, this is true for only 51 per cent of those living in the countryside.
CRC: War: States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities.
Fact: Africa has had a long and sad history of child soldiers for several decades now
CRC: Poverty: Every child has the right to an adequate standard of living
Fact: The richest 20 per cent of the world’s women are 2.7 times more likely than the poorest 20 per cent, to have a skilled attendant present at delivery. In South Asia, the richest women are nearly four times more likely than the poorest to have this benefit.
CRC: Child Survival, Health, Vaccination, Immunization, Water and Sanitation: Every child has a right to life. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily. Every child has a right to health and health services
Fact: The poorest 20 per cent of the world’s children are twice as likely as the richest 20 per cent to be stunted by poor nutrition and to die before their fifth birthday. Children in rural areas are at a similar disadvantage compared to those who live in urban areas.
Fact: Nearly three quarters (or around 1.8 billion) of the 2.5 billion people around the world who still have no access to improved sanitation, live in rural areas. Data from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, for example, show little progress between 1995 and 2008 in improved sanitation coverage among the poorest 40 per cent of households.
CRC: Children with disabilities: All children with disabilities should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions that ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community
CRC: Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C): States Parties are obliged to take all effective and appropriate measures to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.
Fact: Adolescent girls are more likely to be married or in union by age 19 than their male counterparts, and less likely than boys to have comprehensive knowledge of HIV. In South Asia, boys are almost twice as likely as girls to have this knowledge with which to protect themselves.
CRC: Education: Every child has the right to an education
CRC: Corporal punishment in schools: Every child has the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Fact: Nearly 9 in 10 children from the wealthiest 20 per cent of households in the world’s least developed countries attend primary school – compared to only about 6 in 10 from the poorest households. The gap can be dramatic even in lower-middle-income countries. In Nigeria, for example, 94 per cent of children in the wealthiest house- holds attended school, compared to 34 per cent of children in the poorest households.
Fact: Regardless of wealth, girls continue to be held back from schooling. For every 100 boys enrolled in primary school in West and Central Africa, only 90 girls are admitted. The exclusion is worse in secondary school, where only 76 girls are enrolled for every 100 boys.
CRC: Participation: When adults make decisions that affect children, children who are capable of forming their own views have the right to express those views freely in matters affecting them, and adults will take those views into account, in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
CRC: Sport and play: Children have the right to rest and leisure, to engage in sport and play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child, and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
CRC: Child labour: Every child has the right to be protected from hazardous or harmful work and from economic exploitation.
My own country, India, has a rather sorry record in matters dealing with children, in comparison with other BRICS countries, a group it is very proud to be a member of:
And as we talk of development all the time in this country, just how many new programmes has the present government announced to realize the rights of the child? ZILCH.
Footnote: When I returned from my first visit to China, I was asked by my friends about the people and their attitude to life. Most Indians picture the Chinese as inscrutable, unsmiling automatons, living rigidly controlled lives of quiet misery, despite their shining cities. What could I say? It had been the month of August, the annual school break, and there were Chinese children everywhere – on the Great Wall, in the Shanghai Tower, in the myriad malls, on Nanking Street, in the museums… Laughing, healthy and happy children cheekily practising their English on us, and clicking selfies with their exotic neighbours from across the border… And it broke my heart to see the hungry, dirty street kids begging at every traffic light when I returned home.
What is so wrong with India that a little real ‘development’ and compassion cannot mend, I wonder…