The Current Status of Children's Rights in the International Comunity
Talibes, An Example of Children Without Access to Proper Education
Are Children Recognized for Their Individual Rights?
Around 2000, the United Nations drafted what became known as the Millennium Development Goals. The main premise of eight goals that made up the UN Millennium Development goals was to help remedy various social issues within the international community. Among these social issues, were those related to improving women's maternity health, improving the access to education for the world's children, decrease infant mortality, and make gender equality a reality in the international community. Nonetheless, has the international community seen much improvement, let alone change in these major issues related to children's rights?
The answer to this question is that some of the issues related to children's rights, as promised in the Millennium Development Goals are starting to see resolution. However, progression towards this point has been rather slow. For example, we are seeing increased efforts by UNICEF to help boys and girls in countries like Senegal to have greater access to education. Nonetheless, we notice that the attendance rate for boys in primary school is 10% greater than that of girls (roughly at 50% versus 40%). Furthermore, even though Senegal has seen about a 1% increase in the attendance of girls and boys in secondary schools, the percentage of boys who continue on to secondary school in comparison to girls is around 40% to 35% respectively. Now Senegal has promised universal education for all citizens under its constitution and they have signed UN education initiatives as part of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Nonetheless, even though we see UN involvement to try to change the access to education in countries like Senegal, very little change in the area of universal education has occurred.
There are political scientists, politicians, and individuals within the non-profit sector that are trying to explain why changes in the international community regarding the representation of these issues of children's rights are taking so long. This has led to several theories and explanations to elaborate why this is taking so long. First, is that the United Nations is not taking into consideration the particular needs and/or materials available to developing and under-developed countries. This means that the United Nations is assuming that each state can meet the standards set forth by the international agreements it draws up, whether or not the state is small or large, rich or poor, have a republican government structure or a communist structure, conflict or no-conflict. The reason why this is seen as a problem is that depending upon the size of the state, its economic stature in the international community, and its political status and affluence within the international community can depend upon whether it can make the social, political and economic changes it needs to meet accepted international standards, i.e. universal education. Second, is the dialect between the social and cultural norms accepted in a particular state versus the desired changes of the international community. This is seen as a major issue because if the said state has a particular cultural/social norm that was accepted before state officials signed the international agreement with .i.e. the United Nation, it might be harder and/or take longer for them to adjust to the new standards without assistance. Take for example Senegal again. This is a country where it was commonly believed that girls did not need to receive an education, but instead prepare for a future life as a married woman and mother, and education, let alone a public school education, is identified with the French imperialist period, therefore is viewed psychologically as an institution of subjugation, imperialism and French-Secular/Catholic values, not Senegalese-Islamic values. Therefore, it is going to take a while to convince parents and children in Senegal, and individuals in developing and underdeveloped states like Senegal to accept what the international community is encouraging them to change is a human rights issues. Third, there is the concept that children's rights, like women's rights are grouped into what is referred to in international relations as examples of "soft power" rather than "hard power" like issues of war and peace. Traditionally, especially for political individuals who accept realist and neo-realist principals, that tasks that represent "soft power" are less important in state affairs than "hard power" related issues like war and peace. Therefore, issues like universal education for children, poverty, and pre-natal care for women become less important or in considered in comparison to conflict, international trade and peace treaties.
I will admit, that this is something my colleagues and I have wondered about since we started on our long journey in getting the Sama Tata Foundation established and beyond. However, one thing we have noticed in our efforts to improve children's rights, is that children's rights tend to be grouped alongside women's rights. There are some international agreements that are accepted that protect children's rights in particular, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, however there aren't that. Even though many of these international agreements protect a child's right to get an education, be treated fairly, and receive aid if found in a human trafficking situation, many of these assume that the children are under the care of their parents at all times, in particular, their mother. Therefore, women's rights and children's rights are linked...in fact to the point where children's rights is considered to be a sub-field of women's rights. This rather confusing perspective on children's rights seems to make the international community rather blind to human rights issues where a child could be labeled as an orphan, ward of the state, lives with a legal guardian, or lives in a country where the patriarchs are the primary decision makers for all household members.
In conclusion, in order to children in the developing and underdeveloped world to receive full representation and protection of their individual rights as promised by the international community and the countries they live in, the international community and non-state actors need to work together to make changes that will benefit them. One of the first changes that will need to happen is that that UN might want to consider establishing a third-party entity that can work closely with each state to help them do what they need to do to implement the international agreement that they signed, such as those related to universal primary education for children. Another change will have to occur will be to communicate how soft power concerns, like universal primary education for children, will benefit the community it will affect and why it is important, despite social and cultural perceptions and norms may disagree with the new principal. Third, children's rights and women's rights need to be better defined within the international community, to the point where children are recognized as a separate social group within the international community that have disparate issues from their mothers, parents, and the adults surrounding them. If these changes are made, there might be a chance for advances in children's rights to accelerate, and show vast improvements towards a brighter future for the world's children.
© 2014 Danielle Swisher