By Sumaira (aka “Rabba”)
A five-year old Canadian boy wakes up in the morning to the delicious smell of poached eggs wafting into his room. Another boy of the same age opens his eyes across the world in Palestine smelling the decaying bodies of those that had died in the bomb blast last week. A seventeen-year old girl in the United States complains about having to go to university, while one in India looks longingly on as her brother walks off to school and she stays behind to spend her day applying herself to menial domestic chores. A newly born baby in France lies contentedly asleep in the arms of his loving parents; another baby born just then in Congo cries and cries because she is born with a deformed foot and her parents can’t afford proper healthcare.
Such heavy contrasts in such a small world.
Children’s rights exist to prevent these contrasts by establishing a common standard that must be observed for every child around the world. By implementing agreements such as the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have come a long way. But there is still so much further to go before the future of our world, through the fate of our children, is truly secure. We as a global society must continue working towards this goal by devoting ourselves to globally recognizing three inalienable children’s rights: the right to freedom, to education, and most importantly, to love and security.
Freedom is one of the most fundamental human rights, a right for which deep struggles have bloodied the pages of history. Children’s freedom is wrenched away in many parts of the world because of the brutal expectations and burdens placed upon a child’s shoulders in the form of child labour. The term “child labour” in fact refers to a wide variety of issues concerning the treatment of children, ranging from child prostitution to a teenager’s job at Dairy Queen. The International Labour Organization (ILO) categorizes the degrees of labour for children, allowing jobs like working at Dairy Queen provided that they do not compromise the safety, wellbeing, and freewill of the child. However, labour characterized as “unconditional worst forms of child labour” includes things like child prostitution and debt bondage which are unacceptable under any circumstance. This type of labour, employing over 8.4 million children, often involves jobs that are severely hazardous to their health. For example, an 8-year-old girl named Muniannal living in Madras, India, spends her days sitting on a pile of used syringes, most with blood still on them, sorting them into piles to be recycled. She wears no protection on her hands or feet, and if she is pricked by one of the hundreds of needles, she merely dips her hand into a tub of water to stem the bleeding and continues on with her menial and dangerous work (Kielburger, 1998). Millions of children are employed in such ways and have no escape from their brutal lives. Poverty, being the main cause of child labour, dictates thus: it’s either work, or starvation.
Freeing these children from the bonds of such dangerous labour is only achievable if the global community stands up, indignant, and demands that freedom be unconditionally provided to every child, regardless of gender, social and economic status, or geographical location. This is the essence of child rights: every child is equal. Every child must be given equal opportunity – an equal chance to develop their personality and to decide their future. An equal opportunity to do great things.
Education is the most crucial avenue for achieving this equality. While it is incumbent upon the richer people of the world to help those less fortunate, poverty-stricken people must be given the tools to help themselves, too, so they can walk down the road to self-sustainability. Through an education, children become equipped with the skills and mindsets necessary to survive in the world. It is only when they understand the world can they fend for themselves within it. An education is also able to break the cycle of poverty, and thus of child labour. If children are educated, they have a much greater chance of acquiring respectable jobs that do not compromise their wellbeing. The UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child, which 140 countries have signed and 193 have ratified, states that governments should provide free education at least until the primary level. And yet, approximately 125 million children around the world do not attend school (Bachman, 2007). Primary education is still not free worldwide even two decades after the birth of the Convention. It is time for education to be considered the top priority for children everywhere, because knowledge brings an overwhelming hope for a better future.
Knowledge, however, is not always imparted through formal education; experience is a very competent teacher, too. Adults, having had experience in the workings of the world, are more qualified to fend for themselves; but children are impressionable and inexperienced, and thus cannot be treated the same as adults. To illustrate this, let us explore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it applies to child’s rights. Physiological needs, being the bottom of the pyramid, define the very basic human survival needs: oxygen, food, water. In the next two levels, Maslow recognizes the importance of being and feeling safe and secure, both bodily and in social relationships. It is true that physiological needs must be met before acquiring safety of body and social encounters, but we cannot stop when every child has food and shelter and water at their disposal. Those things constitute survival; children need love, care, and a sense of belonging if they are to live. Under the guidance and care of experienced adults, children will become self-actualized, thus better able to contribute to the world. Organizations like Free the Children already exist for the implementation of this very philosophy; it is astounding the difference motivated people can make in the world.
Children’s rights require such motivation to be fully realized. Children must be given their freedom, knowledge to retain that freedom, and security so that they may confidently bestow this freedom on to future generations. It is not the job merely of the government or of international organizations to solve the world’s problems: it is a job for every man, woman, and child on this planet. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to change the world. But it’s much more powerfully effective if everybody stands up and simultaneously declares their want for equality and justice.
- Bachman, Sarah and Nick Madigan. “Child Labour FAQs.” Child Labour Photo Project, 2007. Retrieved: April 7th, 2009. < http://www.childlaborphotoproject.org/childlabor.html>
- Kielburger, Craig. Free the Children. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
- “Childs Rights.” Free the Children: We Generation ,2008. Retrieved: April 7th, 2009. < http://we.freethechildren.com/more-info/child-rights>