Arguably our most basic ethical obligation is to protect children everywhere. Children depend on our protection, and if we fail to provide it they can be irreparably harmed. Moreover children and young people everywhere have the right to medical care, education and a childhood free from the pressures of earning a living.
In 2012 6.6 million children died before reaching their fifth birthday. This is a sharp decrease from 1990, when more than 12 million children died under age five. This improvement is due, in no small part, to the provision of vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, insecticide-treated bed nets and education to improve breastfeeding and safe hygiene practices. Such aid is relatively low cost and easy to distribute.
Of the estimated 2.2 billion children worldwide, nearly half live in poverty. 215 million children are trapped in a life of labour, 3.5 million have been orphaned by AIDS, 10 million are refugees and hundreds of thousands are forced to fight in wars.
Quality education is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Enrolment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91 per cent but 57 million children remain out of school. Educating children gives the next generation the tools to fight poverty and prevent disease, including malaria and AIDS. Educating girls, in particular, has a ‘multiplier effect’. Educated girls are more likely to marry later and have fewer children, who in turn will be more likely to survive and be better nourished and educated.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has become the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history, setting standards for health care, education and social services so that every child will have the right to develop, be protected from harm and participate fully in cultural and social life.