On Universal Children’s Day, UN says world remains ‘deeply unfair’ place for children

Children look out a train window at a reception centre for refugees and migrants in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Photo: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

20 November 2015 – Marking Universal Children’s Day, the United Nations today highlighted that the world remains a “deeply unfair” place for the poorest and most disadvantaged children despite major advances since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 26 years ago today.

“In just over a generation, the world has cut child death rates by half, put over 90 per cent of children in primary school, and increased by 2.6 billion the number of people with access to safe water,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake in a press release.

“Yet children make up almost half of the world’s poor, nearly 250 million children live in conflict-torn countries, and over 200,000 have risked their lives this year seeking refuge in Europe,” he added.

A UNICEF report released today entitled For every child, a fair chance: The promise of equity, presents a statistical picture of how the world’s most marginalized children have fared against basic human development indicators.

It points out that children from the poorest households are nearly twice as likely as those from the richest households to die before age five, and five times more likely to be out of school. It also states that girls from the poorest families are four times more likely as those from the richest families to be married before 18.

In addition, more than 2.4 billion people still do not have adequate toilets – 83 million in East Asia and the Pacific, and more than 660 million still lack access to safe drinking water – 130 million in East Asia and the Pacific.

Findings further show that roughly half of the 159 million children suffering from stunting live in South Asia and one-third in Africa, with 15 million in East Asia and the Pacific.

“Such vast inequities fuel a vicious intergenerational cycle of poverty and disadvantage,” Mr. Lake said. “But it doesn’t have to be this way. We know how to slow, stop, and reverse it into a virtuous cycle of intergenerational progress. It is up to us to decide to do so through more commitment and resources. We must make this moral, pragmatic, strategic…and fair…choice.”

According to UNICEF, the report makes the case for closing persistent gaps in equity, arguing that investing in children, particularly the most vulnerable, is right in principle and right in practice – and that such investment brings multiple benefits not only to children but also to their families, communities and economies.

Meanwhile, a team of UNICEF Ambassadors are raising their voices or activating their social media networks to help spur action for the world’s most vulnerable children as part of the agency’s Fight Unfair campaign.

Ambassadors include Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Sir Roger Moore, Shakira, Ricky Martin, Priyanka Chopra, Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kidjo.

“It is shocking to think that one in nine children lives in a country affected by armed conflict, witnessing horrific violence and having their rights to survival, health and education destroyed,” said British actor and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom.

“I travelled with UNICEF to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia to see how war is driving children and their families from their homes. The world is facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Every country that can, should be supporting the children and the families who have been affected," he stressed.

In his message on Universal Children’s Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of ensuring that the commitments made by the international community to the world's children are extended to a group of children who are often forgotten or overlooked –those deprived of their liberty.

“Far too many children languish in jail, mental health facilities or through other forms of detention,” he stated. “Some children are vulnerable because they are migrants, asylum seekers, homeless or preyed on by organized criminals. Whatever the circumstances, the Convention dictates that the deprivation of liberty must be a measure of last resort, and for the shortest time.”

He added that the global community’s aim “must be to pursue the best interests of the child, prevent the deprivation of liberty and promote alternatives to detention.”

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