Was November a milestone in the fight for children’s rights?

Child labour, Girls' education

Students at the #UpForSchool youth rally in London

November is an important month to honour the rights of children, especially girls, and to inspire action to support these rights around the world. 

For example, the World Day of Prayer and Action was celebrated this year on November 20 with over 70 events in 25 countries supporting the theme of stopping violence against children. 

November 20 to 26 was End Child Slavery Week – a weeklong initiative raising awareness and calling for action to protect over 160 million children engaged in child labour.

November 25 was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – launching the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.

November 20 also marked the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the world’s most ratified international treaties. While the reason for supporting a convention upholding the rights of children is obvious, what is not so obvious is why there still exist gross violations and unrealised children’s rights globally.

Violence against women continues to be a global pandemic. Furthermore, consequences of violence against children harm their potential to fully develop and achieve their dreams. Here are some forms of violence that particularly affect girls:

  • More than half of the number of children out of school – 31 million – are girls. This is a violent matter. Ann Cotton, founder of Camfed, rightly puts it: “Not going to school is a violent matter, it damages the mind, it’s a mental and emotional violence that says you don’t count, you’re not as important, the world doesn’t care about you enough to give you your right.”
  • Child labour exposes girls and boys to harsh working conditions and dangerous substances. Child labourers are at higher risk of mistreatment as well as physical and psychological abuse. Kailash Sartyati, Nobel Laureate and long-time advocate for education and the end of child slavery, adds: “Child slavery is undeniably a blatant violation of human rights and a grave violence against children.”
  • Child marriage is a manifestation of gender-based violence. Child brides are at risk of violence from their partners or their partners’ families. Increased occurrence of sexual violence is also evident in times of conflict resulting in millions of girls dropping out of school, and many married as children.

With these global moments occurring in succession one after another, I am reminded of the work that lies ahead and hopefully we are inspired to take more action. However, widespread violence against children, especially girls, makes me question the meaning of global moments when evidence shows that we are letting the hopes and dreams of children down. 

Each moment has history and meaning but how can we take action to shape the future of our children for the better?

One action we can take to shape this future is to demonstrate support for the right to education for all children. In another commemorative moment on November 19, A World At School hosted an inspiring event launching the #UpForSchool Petition in London last week – a call to action for world leaders to pay attention and prioritise education.

Education activists, teachers, students and world leaders challenged me, and challenged all of us, to step up our efforts on protecting the rights of children. Kevin Watkins of the Overseas Development Institute made a plea that I have been reflecting on: “We need to stop being so polite. We are dealing with flagrant and systematic human rights violations of the most vulnerable people in the world – children.”

This is no longer the time to be polite. Join the global movement #UpForSchool to send a message to your leaders and governments. Sign the #UpForSchool Petition to add your voice – this is an opportunity to urge world leaders to pay attention and translate these global moments into deliverable results for children everywhere.

In November 2015 I will tell a different story, a story of the impact of this collective voice demanding action to prioritise education and eliminate violence and discrimination.

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