Rights Of The Child: 25 Years

The worst thief is he who steals the playtime of children. W D Haywood

Progress in helping children

By Roger Childs

UNICEF motifBack in 1989, 174 nations signed the United Nations Convention to guarantee children access to clean water, good sanitation and medical care, and the right to play and learn. What has been achieved in the last quarter century? A great deal, according to New Zealand’s newly appointed UNICEF Executive Director, Vivien Maidaborn. Speaking in Wellington last month, she outlined progress made in such areas as child labour, poverty, education, health and birth registration.

However, there is still much to be done, for example over 160 million children, who should be in school, are working on cocoa plantations, making carpets, selling goods, toiling on building sites and in mines, and being exploited in hundreds of other activities.

UNICEF: working for children

UNICEFThe United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), is involved around the world, and as the name suggests, leaps in to action when conflicts and natural disasters create problems for children and their families.


After World War II, children across Europe face famine, homelessness and disease. UNICEF was created in December 1946 by the United Nations to provide food, clothing, health care and access to clean water. In 1953 the UN General Assembly decided to extend UNICEF’s mandate indefinitely because of the world wide needs of children.

Then in 1989 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was established to enshrine the world’s obligations to young people.

The four core principles of the convention are:

  • non-discrimination
  • devotion to the best interests of the child
  • the right to life, survival and development
  • respect for the views of the child.

Measuring a quarter century’s assistance

Vivien Maidaburn spelled out the huge amount of progress in recent years.

UNICEF clean water ~ Since 1990, over 2 billion have gained access to a protected water source, however 780 million still need clean water.

~ The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day dropped from 47% to 20% between 1990 and 2010.

~ Between 2000 and 2012 the annual death rate from diarrhoea went down from 1.3 million to 600,000.

~ Early childhood education has increased from 33% in 1990 to 50% in 2010. The biggest increase has been for girls.

~ Since 1990 new born deaths have declined by more than a third.

~ Polio cases have decreased by 99% since 1988.

Emergencies in 2014

Unfortunately, the need for UNICEF is now greater than ever. Currently there are five high-level emergencies in a large triangle from the Middle East to West and Central Africa.

UNICEF South SudanIn Syria the civil war continues with the added conflict involving ISIS. During the last three and a half years a “lost generation” of children has emerged who have had virtually no education.

In the world’s newest country – South Sudan – climate change and internal conflict has displaced tens of thousands and created an emergency food crisis. (See alongside.)

In Iraq, the on-going sectarian conflict and the emergence of ISIS had lead UNICEF to use mobile emergency response teams to support over 300,000 displaced people.

The Central African Republic is wracked by civil war and 2.3 million children have been affected. UNICEF is supplying water and education as the opportunities arise.

And then there is ebola.

Getting on top of ebola

I want ebola to leave so I can go to school. 5 year old Ann Marie in Liberia

Up until early November there had been

  • 13,015 cases
  • 4,808 deaths.

The ebola epidemic in West Africa is a highly complex emergency and for children it is a double “virus”: people get sick and there is no school. With the help of UNICEF core lesson are being delivered by the Liberian Ministry of Education over the radio.

UNICEF ebolaHowever preventing the spread of the disease is the key task. Progress is being made in keeping people hydrated, isolating the sick and preventing people from touching others who are infected and especially dead bodies.

There has been door to door education; burial teams work quickly bury bodies and health workers use the full Personal Patch Equipment (PPE). Unfortunately one PPE can only be used once and some health professionals need 6-9 sets a day.

UNICEF in New Zealand

Child poverty was an election issue and the governor general’s speech from the throne spelled out that his would be a priority for the National government. A programme called Just play, which operates in 11 Pacific nations, is now underway in New Zealand. Also the world-wide movement for Child Friendly Cities is also catching on here and Wellington has recently signed up.

Another interesting development is the planned use of rugby teams starting with the All Blacks as UNICEF ambassadors. Watch for more news on this.

UNICEF plays a huge role in helping children and their families around the planet. The organisation receives no UN funding and relies on donations and the support of governments. However, UNICEF is careful to maintain its neutrality and it is this that enables it to operate freely in trouble spots around the world