Child rights: More than just a day

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking part in the largest gathering of youth advocates in Canada for World Children's Day. 

November 20 is marked as World Children's Day around the world, because world leaders gathered on November 20, 1989, to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This treaty, approved by nearly every country on earth, lays out the basic rights of children everywhere. The Convention says what countries must to ensure all children grow up a healthy as possible, can learn at school, are protected, treated fairly and have their views listened to.

The Canadian government named November 20 National Child Day to remind us all about this promise. UNICEF celebrates World Children’s Day, a day of action for young people, by young people.

Children's universal human rights are not something we put in a closet and take out one day a year. They are for every child and youth, everywhere, every day. But they are adults' responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill.

The governments of the world have an obligation to children and youth. And I believe that UNICEF – the only organization named in the Convention – must remind governments of their promise, every day and for every child.

We have made progress over the past 30 years. Here in Canada, governments have begun to govern differently. Most provinces and territories now have independent advocates for children, Quebec has Child Friendly Cities (or Municipalités amies des enfants) across the province. All levels of government have created better policies and laws to respect your rights in the justice system, in child welfare, when parents get divorced.

But we still have much more to do.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal continues to challenge governments to provide equitable public services for First Nations children. Education and health are core rights in the Convention. Globally, the number of children missing out on primary school has fallen by 40 per cent. Millions more children survive and are healthy than before the Convention. But we know that progress has not been shared equally both within and between countries. And we are at risk of losing ground on some rights, such as children having enough nutritious food.

We also have to keep in mind that the Convention was written for a much different world. Today, the threats to children’s rights include climate change, bullying at schools and on social media, escalating gun violence, urbanization and increased forced migration.

These are just some of the new challenges to the rights and well-being of young people and future generations, in Canada and worldwide.

Young people are reminding adults and telling their peers that every young person has the right to be heard and to play an active role in shaping their future. Youth are speaking out for their rights in education, demanding an end to discrimination, marching against violence, striking for action on the climate crisis, campaigning for an end to poverty, and calling on leaders to protect their future.

World Children's Day may be only one day but UNICEF is committed to supporting children's rights - as well as youth advocacy and activism - every day, for every child.

As a UN agency, UNICEF works in 190 countries and we've saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. UNICEF Canada is a Canadian NGO and represents UNICEF in Canada working tirelessly as part of the UNICEF family to ensure that children survive and thrive, and have the opportunity to reach their full potential.