20 November 2019 - When the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child thirty years ago today, it quickly became the most ratified international human rights treaty in history, now signed by 196 countries. This comprehensive document, addressing both the rights of children and the responsibilities of Governments to enable and protect these rights, explicitly details over 54 articles of a wide variety of rights all children automatically enjoy, regardless of where or when they are born; these include every basic human right, whose universal application should ensure a drastic improvement in our collective quality of life.
As evidenced by the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF), however, the progress made over the past three decades remains uneven. Conditions have indeed improved for many children around the globe, especially in terms of health, but there remain persistent challenges and new threats - such as climate change and cyberbullying, to name a couple - which need new approaches. At the same time, the need to raise children's awareness about all their basic rights (a right of information about their own rights in itself, covered in Article 42 of the Convention) is a continual obligation which must be fulfilled in traditional settings and with evolving technology.
For instance, the right of every child to an education - and a compulsory, free primary education - is guaranteed in Article 28 of the Convention; so is the right to access to information through the Internet, television and other sources (Article 17), the right to express opinions (Article 12), and the right to safety and protection from a myriad of abuses. When children are knowledgeable about their rights, they also have a deeper understanding of their role in society, and of the role they each play in contributing to making the world a better and safer place.
For the last four years, UNODC's Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration has promoted a culture of lawfulness all over the world, in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal 16 which calls for peace, justice and strong institutions. Of particular relevance to the rights of children are two of the Programme's components: Education for Justice (E4J) and Youth Crime Prevention through Sports.
Teaching what constitutes rule of law and how this positively affects society at large has been a fundamental contribution of E4J. Through numerous tools and resources especially developed to be modern, innovative and relevant, E4J is reaching children all over the world from the primary until the tertiary level, helping them understand why lawful societies benefit all.
E4J's resources are all designed to teach values and practical skills, and to familiarize children with some of today's biggest global issues. Through sustained investment in educational innovation, E4J has produced board games, electronic games, hackathons on lawfulness themes, permanent museum exhibits, a cartoon series, comic books, and even a specific Model United Nations guide on UNODC fields.
One of the video games tackles gender-based violence for children in a novel way ( Chuka, Break the Silence), another challenges children to deal with cognitive dissonance when facing complex choices (Disonante), while a clever board game encourages children to think strategically to fight cybercrime ( Cyberstrike) - to name but a few. As for the now famous Zorbs, they have been enlisted to help teach children about their universal rights with the Right Boxes project.
The Global Programme has also joined UNESCO for the Global Citizenship Education partnership, which has already given fruit with an important education policy guide on Strengthening the Rule of Law through Education, in addition to two essential handbooks to help teachers at the primary and secondary levels with Empowering Students for Just Societies.
There are many other ways beyond formal education to further the empowerment of children, with one of the most efficient being sports. With Line Up, Live Up, UNODC's sports-based life skills training curriculum developed by the Programme, children aged 13 to 18 are taught valuable and applicable life skills to help them stay away from crime and drugs. This approach has proved popular throughout the globe, giving potentially marginalized or disadvantaged children the chance to be part of a community of peers who may share a love for a particular discipline, and a sense of belonging and purpose for the future.
Whether it is through traditional or innovative education, engagement with children is key and investment in their empowerment essential until they reach adulthood at the age of 18. With the Convention, children are guaranteed a set of rights commonly divided into the three equally important Ps: provision (which includes food, shelter, health care and education); protection (including from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination); and participation (including involvement in the community and in youth activities).
Unanimity on global values and fundamental rights is certainly something to be applauded, but there is still much to do to ensure today's children have a brighter future, a goal to which UNODC and the Global Programme remain committed.