Today is Children’s Day in India; yet for 25 million Indian children, there is no cause for celebration. Amidst their country’s growing prosperity, these 25 million children live without parents, in orphanages or on the streets where they are vulnerable to abuse, child labor, trafficking, malnutrition and disease. For these young people, Children’s Day is simply another day to survive.
Close to four million more children are joining their ranks each year, and India is home to the world’s largest population of AIDS orphans, at approximately two million. According to UNICEF, one of every three of the world’s malnourished children lives in India, and about 50% of childhood deaths in the country are attributed to malnutrition or starvation. Save The Children found that more than 400,000 children each year die within the first 24 hours of life in India.
While the rest of the world celebrates United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) from November 14-21, these children have lost their rights and indeed, even their voices. UNICEF defines a child as “invisible” when he lacks an environment that protects him from violence, abuse and exploitation; goes without basic necessities such as adequate food, health care and schooling; and is neglected by the state.
The UNCRC is a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations, and the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not.
However, twenty years later, India has fallen far short of meeting the rights of these children. So, what can you do to help ensure their rights, and prevent more children from falling through the cracks?
- You can sign a petition for the United States to ratify the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. and Somalia are the only two countries in the world who have failed to do so.
UNICEF has some other great resources for ways to make a difference:
- If you are a parent, teacher, social worker or other professional working with children, raise awareness of the Convention on the Rights of the Child among children.
- If you are a member or employee of an organization working for children’s rights, raise awareness of the Convention and its Optional Protocols, research and document governmental actions and policies and involve communities in promoting and protecting children’s rights.
- If you are a member of the media, promote knowledge and understanding of children’s rights and provide a forum for children’s participation in society.
- If you are a parliamentarian, ensure that all existing and new legislation and judicial practice is compatible with your country’s international obligations, monitor governments’ actions, policies and budgets and involve the community—including children—in relevant decisionmaking.
You may also be interested in reading this beautiful essay from an Indian writer (and Save The Children photographer), who recounts how when growing up, Children’s Day meant sweets and fun – and how only much later, did she realize the struggles that many other children faced simply to survive.
Together, we can all get involved to make sure that all children have their needs met – and to give them that most basic of all things that each one deserves: a childhood.
This is an incredible video of a Canadian girl who spoke to the United Nations and left them completely silent and speechless for five minutes. Her name is Severn Cullis-Suzuki, and her speech was given at a U.N. assembly in Brazil when she was twelve years old. She had raised all the money to travel to the delegation, five thousand miles from her home, herself.
Speaking about the hole in the ozone layer, pollution, the devastation of the forests and extinction of so many species, Severn charges that we adults have no idea how to fix these things, in fact can’t fix them, and that we must change our ways. “If you don’t know how to fix it, stop breaking it,” she pleads.
Severn continued to say:
“I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak on behalf of starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I’m only a child and I don’t have the solutions…but neither do you. I am only a child, but I know we are all part of a family five billion strong; in fact, 30 million species strong, and borders and governments will never change that.
Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to share. We are afraid to let go of some of our wealth. Two days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent some time with children living in the streets. This is what one child told us:
‘I wish I was rich. And if I were, I would give all the street children food, clothes, medicine, shelter, love and affection.’
If child on the streets who has nothing is willing to share – why are we, who have everything, still so greedy?
I am only a child, but I know if all the money spent on war was spent on finding environmental answers, ending poverty, and finding treaties – what a wonderful place this world would be.”
And here’s the kicker – this speech was given in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. How much is still relevant today? All of it. And the more important question is: How much has been changed, accomplished, since Severn spoke that day?
Years later, Severn wrote a piece for Time magazine in which she said: “I spoke for six minutes and received a standing ovation. Some of the delegates even cried. I thought that maybe I had reached some of them, that my speech might actually spur action. Now, a decade from Rio, after I’ve sat through many more conferences, I’m not sure what has been accomplished. My confidence in the people in power and in the power of an individual’s voice to reach them has been deeply shaken…In the 10 years since Rio, I have learned that addressing our leaders is not enough. As Gandhi said many years ago, ‘We must become the change we want to see.’ I know change is possible.”
Severn comes from an environmental legacy – her father is the renowned David Suzuki. At the age of nine, Severn founded the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), a group of children dedicated to learning and teaching other kids about environmental issues. Today, Severn is an environmental activist, speaker, television host and author. She has spoken around the world about environmental issues, urging listeners to define their values, act with the future in mind, and take individual responsibility.
She co-hosted Suzuki’s Nature Quest, a children’s television series that aired on the Discovery Channel in 2002. In early 2002, she helped launch an Internet-based think tank called The Skyfish Project.As a member of Kofi Annan’s Special Advisory Panel, she and members of the Skyfish Project brought their first project, a pledge called the “Recognition of Responsibility”, to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002.