The Good News about Children - and the Bad

Children work in an artisanal gold mine, Kéniéba cercle, Mali. © 2010 International Labour Organization/IPEC

Children work in an artisanal gold mine, Kéniéba cercle, Mali. © 2010 International Labour Organization/IPEC

Story by Jo Becker, Human Rights Watch, Advocacy Director

My colleagues and I have interviewed hundreds of children around the world who have been recruited as soldiers, exploited for their laborlocked up in horrific conditions, and been subject to a wide array of other abuses. Sometimes the violations seem overwhelming.

This week – 25 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – is a perfect time to step back and look at the big picture. Are children’s lives getting any better?

The answer is yes.

A child born today is nearly twice as likely to make it to their fifth birthday as a child born 25 years ago. They are much more likely to attend school, and much less likely to be working. Girls are one-third less likely to be subject to female genital mutilation than three decades ago.

But despite this progress, advances are still far too slow and too many children have been left out.

Worldwide, 58 million children are still out of school – including many with disabilities and many in conflict countries. About 168 million children are engaged in child labor. Every year, an estimated 14 million girls are married before the age of 18, and three million are subject to  female genital mutilation. On any given day, at least one million children are detained in jails and prisons, the vast majority for petty or nonviolent offenses.

As governments take stock this week of progress since the Convention was adopted, they should commit to doing more. They should expand policies with proven track records in increasing school enrollment and improving children’s health, and abandon those that are ineffective and damaging to children, such as the overuse of detention and institutionalization. They should identify vulnerable children who are left out and make concrete plans to protect them and ensure their access to education and health care. Finally, they should ensure that laws protect all children from violations and abusers are held responsible – whether parents, teachers, employers, or police and other officials.

The evidence shows that governments can make children’s lives better. Their commitments should extend not just to some children, but to every child.

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