Peace Remains Best Protection for Children’s Rights, Secretary-General Tells Event Marking Treaty’s Thirtieth Anniversary
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at an event on the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in New York on 25 September:
Thirty years ago, nations joined together to make an unprecedented promise to the children of the world. They pledged not only to proclaim children’s rights, but to uphold them and be accountable for them.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child was a landmark achievement. For the first time, Governments explicitly recognized that children have the same human rights as adults. as well as specific additional rights that recognize their special status as dependents.
The Convention recognizes a child’s right to health, medicine and nutrition. To clean water and sanitation. To a seat in a classroom — including for children with disabilities and children in war zones. The Convention recognizes that children have a right to protection and safety in their homes, neighbourhoods and villages. They have the right to express their opinions. And the right to be heard.
This Convention is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. We look forward to the day when all United Nations Member States give it their full backing. Its near universal membership has created unprecedented international solidarity around children’s rights. It reflects a global consensus around the role of families, communities and the State in protecting and nurturing children.
The actions and inactions of Governments have a greater impact on children than on any other group in society. Children are particularly vulnerable to poverty, hunger, poor health care and living conditions. And the more we learn about child development, the clearer it is that the first decade of life is the most important. A child’s potential can be stunted by poor nutrition before the age of 2. A child’s life chances may be set by the time she starts school.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has galvanized action. More children than ever before are now getting the protection and support they need. In the past 30 years, deaths of children under 5 have fallen by half — and so has the number of undernourished children. Rights have become reality for millions of children. In many places, Governments and civil society are working together to provide support to children in war zones, to end child marriage and to give children and young people a voice in the decisions that affect them.
But we still have more to do. Millions of children around the world are hungry, sick or in danger. Others are suffering because of their religion, ethnicity or disability. Children in conflict zones may be subjected to horrific sexual violence that causes long-term psychological and physical trauma.
The number of child victims of human trafficking more than doubled from 2004 to 2016. Most are trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour or recruitment as child soldiers. We must reverse this utterly unacceptable trend. Girls are at particular risk of early marriage, sexual exploitation and abuse. They are less likely to be in school, more likely to go hungry and more likely to shoulder the burden of unpaid domestic work.
New challenges, including rising inequality and digital technology, are creating new risks for children. Today’s children will live with the devastating consequences of climate change if we fail to act now. More families are migrating than ever before, and child migrants are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We cannot afford to be complacent. We need to strengthen our efforts to ensure all children are safe, healthy and able to achieve their dreams.
Earlier this month, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] installed a tribute to children killed in conflict on the North Lawn of this United Nations complex. It was a graveyard, but in place of headstones were children’s backpacks. Each one represented a child killed in conflict during 2018. Three thousand seven hundred and fifty-eight backpacks were laid out in rows on the grass. The sense of loss was overwhelming. A graveyard of dreams. A cemetery of hopes. Conflict is the greatest threat to children’s rights and magnifies all other threats. Peace remains their best protection.
As we celebrate the success of this landmark Convention, let’s re-commit to putting children first. I urge you to sign the global pledge to reaffirm your commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Together, let’s match the efforts and progress of the last three decades with renewed promise. For every child, every right. Thank you.