The international standards surrounding children’s rights have improved at an exponential rate in the last few decades. Back in the early twentieth century, children’s rights were non-existent as they had to work in harsh environments to earn a living and escape starvation. Fast forward, today most children around the globe get to celebrate Children’s Day – or at least a similar custom of this special day. World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 by the United Nations (UN). More than a mere celebration, the day holds a plentitude of meanings.
The Significance of November 20
Apart from World Children’s Day, Nov 20 also marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and 1989 respectively by the UN General Assembly.
Both the Declaration and Convention state crucial rights for children, such as the need for formal recognition of children from their government as “social, economic, political, civil and cultural actors” of their country of birth, as well as to be “entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth herein without distinction of any kind, such as race and colour… or other status”.
World Children’s Day was established with the goals of the Declaration and Convention of the Rights of the Child to promote “international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare”, according to the UN. Both treaties play a vital role in the inception of World Children’s Day as it resembles a bridge, facilitating the transition from theories to actions in hopes of providing a better future for children.
To champion this cause, the UN General Assembly created the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), to provide humanitarian and development aid to disadvantaged children in developing countries. Today, UNICEF’s mandate lives on by organising advocacy events and forging long-lasting partnerships with government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
This year, on Nov 20, UNICEF is inviting youths aged 13 to 24 from all around the globe to come together and reimagine a better world through an illustration challenge.
Celebrating the Day
The celebration of Children’s Day is a worldwide phenomenon and continues to be celebrated differently in every country. In Asia, for instance, Japan celebrates Children’s Day on May 5 annually. Activities range from families flying carp kites known as ‘koinobori flags’ that symbolise determination and vigour, to consuming ‘Kashiwa-mochi’ which is a sticky rice cake wrapped in oak leaves and a sign of good fortune.
At the other end of the globe, Mexico celebrates Children’s Day on April 30. It is a culture for Mexican children to sing a song while rolling a traditional wooden whisk between their palms in a chocolate drink, before consuming it for breakfast. For a day every year, children are able to go on rides, play games and enjoy scrumptious food in their schools.
In reality, however, not every child gets to celebrate Children’s Day joyously. While children in developed countries are able to enjoy and celebrate the festive day with special events and tasty meals, many more children in developing countries are not as lucky.
Nearly 1.4 million children are still at imminent risk of death as they face acute famine, malnutrition and starvation, according to UNICEF. The number of children trapped in conflict-torn countries such as Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Northern East Nigeria has increased and they are continually denied the right to a childhood. Unlike their developed counterparts, every day for these children is a fight for survival, including Children’s Day.
It is crucial to understand that children are the future of humanity and this planet. There is an urgent need to continually invest in their intellectual and social capital in order for them to participate effectively in civil society. The issue of childhood, however, requires the world to analyse it with a pair of interconnected lens. One of the best investments for impoverished children is to provide them with education. This can help them escape the poverty cycle and bring about more equitable societies.
As we observe Nov 20, let us harness the power of the public platforms to raise awareness and engagement around the issue of children. There remain many rights to fight for, but the fight for children must march on as they are the most important resource for our planet.