Shall I be young, shall I be handsome, rich and smart, the lullabies, rhymes, songs and sonnets exuding, these dreams have been sung to the children from the times immemorial. But the lives and realities for a large population of them, despite all such passions and prayers, have hardly been so sublime and splendid. The heartrending accounts of their hardships, exploitation and suffering from being chimney cleaners to war victims, have also been quite rife in literature.
However, the feeling, concern and efforts to improve their lives also gradually emerged to become a shared concern of the adults, states and global organisations. The global resolve first emerged in the declaration of their rights adopted by the League of the Nations in 1924. It recognised and affirmed that children had their special rights and the responsibility for their development, special help in times of need, priority for relief, economic freedom and protection from exploitation, as well as for their upbringing and imparting social consciousness was incumbent on all the adults.
The mission to further this declaration was then assumed by the UN that succeeded the League, by pioneering the commemoration of a universal day for the children on November 20, the day the declaration had been passed. The day is to affirm a collective national and global debt to promote the children welfare around the planet, to illumine and emphasise their rights and promote their interaction, understanding and inspire their awareness.
The convention stipulates the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of the child. They range from their right to grow and live in an atmosphere of peace and stability, free from violence, discrimination and exploitation, have proper physical and mental health, education, family life, play, recreation and adequate standards of living free from any harm or abuse. It also exhorts the adults to ensure a better future for them, listen to their voices and care for that matters most to their generations.
The fun and festivities to mark this day are held by various institutions and organisations. Blue colour, being symptomatic of the children rights is also quite enthusiastically splashed around. The day, each year also has a theme to emphasise some significant aspect of the children’s rights or to evaluate the extent of achievements. The theme for this year, exerts to build a better future by ensuring the equality, inclusion, participation, and dignity to every child. It morphs into nurturing an atmosphere of peace and growth for them that is free from any stress or anxiety likely to impact their health, minds and creative faculties.
Given such enviable resolve and ideals for their care and growth, the day is also an occasion to discern the important problems being faced by them and how the world has fared to deal with them. Poverty and lack of peace being rather more rampant in the developing world, about one third or 25,000 of them are carried away every day, mostly by the diseases that can be easily prevented by proper care and treatment. Poverty also forces them to forego education, being driven to child labour, slavery and exploitation by the unscrupulous elements. Over 160 million children in the world have been pushed into child labour while about 29 million are victims of sexual abuse.
The plight of most children even in Pakistan, is quite heart wrenching as more than 45 percent of them are malnourished, 80 percent lack the proper quality and quantity of food and about 30,000 perish for its utter paucity. Millions of them similarly suffer the cognitive impairments, weak immunity and various non-communicable diseases wrought by the vital micronutrient deficiencies. Their failure to be properly nourished by the optimum levels evidently implies their inability to grow up to be productive and well-functioning members of society.
Over twenty-two million children in Pakistan are out of school despite an explicit constitutional clause mandating a free and compulsory education for every child. An act to enforce this provision passed in 2014, but it has not even been notified for implementation. Even the facilities like clean drinking water, hygiene, sports and recreation are quite dismal in the public schools. The sight of children as well the infants carried by their mothers begging at various busier sites rends the entire fabric of the collective national care and concern and clauses of the convention for their rights and privileges.
A lot more dedicated and concerted efforts and resources are evidently imperative to streamline our legislative and enforcement sectors to deliver our debt to the children to ensure their proper care, development and potential.