NEW YORK, Nov. 20, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — On World Children’s Day, I think many of us feel a need to bow to the 224 million crisis-impacted children and adolescents who are suffering unspeakable violations of international humanitarian and human rights law right now. Born of innocence, their lives are plagued by brutally inhumane armed conflicts, harrowing forced displacement and punishing climate disasters. All happening despite the world having declared and committed to deliver on their right to a quality education in a safe learning environment.
World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated on 20 November each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.
Indeed, while many among us are working hard to fulfill these commitments, others appear to not be hearing their soul-shattering screams for help over the deafening sound of hatred, exclusion and destruction. Will we leave them a world in tatters? Will we leave them a planet in peril? Will we leave them to repeat the mistakes that have wrought horror, terror and tyranny throughout human history?
Through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goals, governments worldwide have made firm commitments to ensuring education as a basic, inherent human right, and established a quality education as a foundation for creating a more peaceful, more equal, more just and more prosperous world.
We have made some notable progress toward these goals since the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1959. Nevertheless, more than 60 years later, a new set of collective challenges – brutal attacks on schools, massive forced displacement made even worse by climate change, killing of school-aged children described as ‘collateral damage,’ and other interconnected crises – have set the world on fire. Wherever we look today, these vulnerable children and adolescents are crying out for our humanity. We must hear their voices, we must feel their pain, we must speak up and we must act boldly. Now.
When we listen to children and adolescents, they tell us loud and clear that all they want is the freedom and opportunity to safely go to school, the freedom to play, the freedom to grow and the freedom to reach their full potential. Yet, for so many of them around the world, it seems their call is falling on deaf ears.
In Gaza, with all UNRWA schools now serving as shelters for displaced persons and with schoolyards becoming graveyards after being hit directly or indirectly by airstrikes, learning has stopped for 300,228 UNRWA students throughout the past month. Children and teachers have been killed and children are experiencing traumatic events on a daily basis. In October alone, UNRWA reported that 91% of children demonstrated effects of trauma, a number that most likely has increased since then. It is safe to say that no child in Gaza is unaffected. With their education entirely disrupted, ECW recently announced an initial US$10 Million First Emergency Response grant to UNRWA and UNICEF to urgently support mental health and psychosocial services, and protective learning opportunities. We look to all our strategic donors and partners to help us do more.
In Cameroon, girls like Eileen* recount terrifying stories from the frontlines of one of the world’s forgotten crises. “I used to attend primary school. But when the war started, I stopped going to school. I was so scared because they were killing people and taking our teachers to the bush,” she says, holding back her tears. “My father then fled with us to another city, where I was taken to a learning center to learn with other children using tablets donated by ECW through UNESCO.” Every life matters. Eileen matters to all of us.
In Afghanistan, resilient girls who have been denied their right to education for over two years have not given up hope and are doing whatever they can. Many of their inspiring testimonies are captured in our #AfghanGirlsVoices campaign. One Afghan girl said, “Even without formal classrooms, I try to learn and read books to keep myself educated and inspired.” Another determined girl said, “We may be deprived of books, but our minds are fertile grounds where ideas flourish and curiosity thrives. No one can stop that.”
No one can stop the young generation. Those who have suffered and survived will be the ones rebuilding our world. They are our hope for change. They are the ones that will unite around universal human rights. Because they have been there. They neither cause nor deserve cruel wars. They realize the value of Mother Earth. They dream of peace and the right to learn in safety and make the world a better place.
On World Children’s Day, let us bow to them and recognize their strength.
*Names changed to protect identity
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