International day of the children’s rights: Why children’s rights are more important than ever

Children’s rights are based on human rights, but they aim to protect the specific needs of children, as well as being accepted as a full citizen. This is because children always pay the highest price in difficult situations, such as the currently ongoing war in Gaza. On the 20th of November, this day celebrates the rights of children. With a total of 54, the children’s rights try to protect any person under the age of eighteen with basic standards.

On the 20th of November 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was established by the United Nations. Now, 34 years later, 196 official countries are part of this treaty. In the treaty you can find 54 rights to let children be children such as, freedom of thought and religion, protection from violence and access to education. According to Philippe Henon, spokesperson of UNICEF, Belgium, those 34 years already made a big impact. ‘Since 1989 we see a strong increase in emergency situations. But we also see progress in some domains. Children are even better protected, as we see at the child mortality figures, which are declining, for instance.’

Only the United States of America didn’t apply the rights in their laws. According to Philippe Henon, the reason is not entirely clear: ‘Despite the fact that Americans already have a less enthusiastic approach for international conventions, there are also some practical issues. For instance, the treaty says that you can’t join the army under eighteen. But there are a lot of military schools in the USA for children younger than eighteen, where they can be deployed in an armed conflict.’

The treaty is used by UNICEF for arguments to get access to the children by the governments because they ratified the threaty. Also in the case of Gaza, they use a lot of international conventions to get a humanitarian corridor.

Gaza’s children’s right crisis

‘In Gaza, almost all rights of the children are abused. Children are fleeing, being bombed or are wounded. They are direct victims of this war. Many have seen family or friends die and they had to leave everything behind. This has a huge impact on those children, which causes a lot of trauma. Also indirect the children are victims of the situation, without clean water they suffer from various diseases and they can’t go to school either,’ says Henon.

According to data of WHO (World Health Organization), as the 15th of November, 4,506 children have died and 9,137 are wounded since the start of the war on the 7th of October. There is a shortage of humanitairian supplies such as fuel, water, food and medicines & medical supplies, because of the blokade imposed by Israel. This has lead to a huge humanitarian crisis. WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated on November 10th that, ‘a child is killed on an average of every ten minutes in the Gaza.’

UNICEF also worries about the situation in the Gaza, Henon even calls it a lost generation. ‘The future of the children is at stake. Many saw awful things or even experienced it. Even at a really young age this could have a psychological impact on them in later years. Before the war, already three out of four children in Gaza needed psychological support.’


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Because Israel doesn’t pay heed to international procedures, help organizations can’t do a lot. There is no specific protection for children, from both sides, because there are still Israelian children kidnaped by Hamas. UNICEF wants to be there for every child, but the only thing they can do is sending out press releases and making statements. And they are ready with supplies at the borders to get them in Gaza. Some aid workers are still in Gaza with risk for their own life, but without clean water and food there isn’t much that can be done.

At the moment Henon doesn’t see any change in the ‘child rights crisis’ in Gaza, as he calls it. ‘The only thing UNICEF can do about it, is repeating that a child is a child. And if that child lives in Israel, Gaza, Afghanistan or Belgium, each child has the same rights and it has the rights to be a child.’

Its relevance today

The basis of the treaty will always stay the same because they are the basics. It’s also an important tool to protect children. The agreement gives governments, with the different articles, indications as to how to protect a child. But UN can add protocols to continue its relevance in an evolving world. ‘It’s really important to keep track of those evolutions so we can keep protecting children even better. For instance, there came a protocol that girls should have access to education. But nowadays, the climate change and the extreme weather conditions also play a bigger role in the protection of children.’

‘If that child lives in Gaza or Israel, each child has the same rights and it has the rights to be a child.’
-Philippe Henon, spokesperson UNICEF

Those new protocols need to be integrated in the laws of the countries. To control the children’s rights treaty, the committee of the rights of the child in Geneve asks every two years a report form all countries. There they’ve to show their progress in terms of protecting children and the challenges they face. Because of the treaty, international organisations can reach out to every child in the world and demand the necessary help and support the children’s needs.

Philippe Henon explains what UNICEF’s role in this is. ‘We regularly publish reports about the situation of children. This is to keep the governments aware of the problem and to take the necessary steps to protect. This is expected once a country ratifies the treaty. Whilst this is all on national level, the committee can’t send out fines to countries who violate the children’s rights so to speak. The prestige of having good chilrens rights in the country is something that has an impact at the international level.’

Nowadays the childern’s rights are still contemporary and relevant. Henon says it with an expample of Gaza: ‘For more then a month now, we see that childern gets the worst of it. We can conclude that childern’s rights are more important than ever in this conflict.’

Text: Lotte van den Hout
Photo: Yannis H. via Unsplash