Humans are capable of amazing things. We’ve rewritten the meaning of what’s possible a thousand times over. Yet we continue to leave millions of children behind – especially girls – and have come to accept this loss of human potential as ‘normal’.
Today, ‘normal’ in too many places has become children denied their rights and girls denied equality. From lack of access to education, to protection from harm, to clean water and basic sanitation, millions of children around the world are being held back by a variety of barriers that prevent them from realizing their full potential
Over 190 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – making it the most widely-adopted human rights treaty in history. But just because this treaty exists doesn’t mean that children’s rights are always upheld.
That’s why Plan International is dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls. As an independent global organization, we have been building powerful partnerships for children for over 80 years and are now active in over 70 countries.
Here are 7 issues we see in our work that violate children’s rights:
1. Child marriage
Nearly every two seconds a girl under 18 is married. Each year, 12 million girls are married by their 18th birthday.
Child marriage denies girls their rights, often forcing them to drop out of school, exposing them to violence (sexual, physical and emotional) and driving them into experiences that their young minds and bodies are not ready for, like motherhood.
Of course, boys are married too, but child marriage is an issue that disproportionately affects girls – around 82% of all children married before age 18 are girls.
SEE ALSO: 5 ways to end child marriage
2. Child labour
In the world’s poorest countries, millions of children (approximately 1 in 4) are engaged in hazardous and exploitative child labour that is considered detrimental to their health and development. Some examples of child labour can include sex trafficking, domestic servitude, hard physical labour such as farming or mining, and sweatshop labour.
Child labour violates children’s rights to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with a child’s education and overall development.
SEE ALSO: Freed from a life of child labour
3. Lack of access to education
An estimated 263 million children and youth around the world are currently out of school, including an estimated 130 million girls, with the highest proportion aged 15-17.
Every child has the right to an education, and learning is crucial for development. It’s also one of the most powerful tools in breaking the cycle of poverty and ensuring children are empowered to reach their full potential.
Many girls face a unique set of barriers that prevent them from achieving an education, including long distances to school, lack of safe washrooms, local gender norms, and early pregnancy.
4. Child Soldiers
Today, it is estimated that tens of thousands of children – some as young as 8 years old – are involved in at least 15 armed conflicts around the world.
Children are more likely to become child soldiers if they are separated from their families, displaced from their homes, or living in conflict areas with limited access to education – factors that make them vulnerable to recruitment by armed forces and groups.
These children are forced to endure the horrors of warfare – a reality which not only robs them of their childhoods but also has detrimental effects on their mental and emotional development. Every child has the right to be protected from war.
5. Lack of access to clean water
2.1 billion people lack safe drinking water at home, and more than twice as many lack safe sanitation such as toilets.
Without these basics, the lives of millions of children are at risk. For children under 5, water- and sanitation-related diseases are one of the leading causes of death. In fact, every day, over 800 children die from preventable diseases caused by poor water, and a lack of sanitation and hygiene.
6. Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Today, at least 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM, and the average age of a girl who undergoes FGM is 10 years old.
Female Genital Mutilation is a fundamental violation of girls’ rights to health, to be free from violence, to life and physical integrity, and to be free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The practice happens in many parts of the world, and is typically upheld by deeply entrenched social norms. It is also a manifestation of gender discrimination.
7. Lack of access to healthcare
Every child has the right to quality healthcare, however 5.6 million children under the age of 5 years died in 2016, with the leading causes being preterm birth complications, pneumonia, birth asphyxia, diarrhoea and malaria. This translates to 15,000 deaths per day. With adequate access to quality healthcare, many of these deaths could likely have been prevented.
In addition, complications related to pregnancy and childbirth is the leading cause of death for girls under 15. As with education, girls face many unique barriers to exercising their rights to healthcare, with the most common barrier being gender norms and inequality.
Child rights during a global pandemic
Children and their well-being are at the center of everything we do, and although children do appear less impacted by COVID-19 than adults, the pandemic is no doubt impacting their lives in devastating ways.
Due to the onset of the pandemic, more than 1.5 billion students are out of school. In addition, widespread income loss and economic insecurity are likely to increase rates of child labor, sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancy, and child marriage.
Research shows that an increase in stress on families tends to increase the risk of family violence. Furthermore, closures due to COVID-19 are impacting accessibility to basic services that protect vulnerable children from various forms of abuse.
About Plan International
Plan International Canada is a member of a global organization dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls.
We have been building powerful partnerships for children for over 80 years and are now active in more than 70 countries.
What we do:
- Work with children, young people, supporters and partners to tackle the root cause of barriers facing girls and all vulnerable children.
- Support children’s rights from birth to adulthood.
- Enable children and communities to prepare for and respond to crisis and adversity.
- Drive change in practice and policy at all levels using our reach, experience and knowledge.