Africa: ‘Children Live in a World That Is Increasingly Hostile to Their Rights’

New York — Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell

“Each year on November 20, we mark World Children’s Day to commemorate the 1989 adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. By ratifying this international legal framework, world leaders acknowledged that all children have inalienable rights. And they promised that governments would ensure that those rights would be protected and upheld.

“Unfortunately, children today are living in a world that is increasingly hostile to their rights.

“Nowhere is this more obvious than in the experience of children impacted by conflicts.

“We estimate that today, 400 million children – or about 1 child in every 5 – are living in or fleeing from conflict zones. Many are being injured, killed, or sexually violated. They are losing family members and friends. And some are being recruited and used by armed forces or groups. Many of them have been displaced multiple times, risking separation from their families, losing critical years of education, and fraying ties to their communities.

“The United Nations has verified more than 315,000 grave child rights violations in areas under conflict between 2005 and 2022. And these are only the cases that have been verified which means the true number of violations is most certainly much higher.

“Beyond conflict zones, children’s rights also are under threat.

“That this coincides with other crises that are infringing on children’s rights is deeply troubling. These include rising poverty and inequality, public health emergencies and, of course, the global climate crisis.

“Climate change, in particular, is an existential threat to the health and wellbeing of this and future generations of children. Globally, more than 1 billion children currently live in countries that are at ‘extremely high-risk’ from the impacts of climate change. This means half the world’s children could suffer irreparable harm as our planet continues to warm. They could lose their homes or schools to increasingly violent storms … they could suffer from severe wasting because local crops have dried up from drought … or they could lose their lives to heat waves or pneumonia brought on by air pollution.

“At no time since the CRC was adopted 34 years ago have children’s rights been in greater jeopardy.

“And that is why we must act. I urge all of us – from UNICEF and our partners in the child rights community to governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector – to be stronger champions and advocates for the fulfillment and protection of children’s rights. This means supporting the alignment of national legal frameworks with the CRC and other international standards, and putting those standards into practice.

“It also means reaffirming children’s status as distinct, independent rights holders and ensuring accountability for violations of children’s rights wherever they occur.

“Today should be a day when we celebrate the advancement of children’s rights across the globe, but those rights are under attack. We must not be discouraged by this, but more resolved to ensure that the promise of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is fulfilled, for every child.”

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