Children – UNICEF Open Letter
An open letter to the world’s children :: 8 reasons why I’m worried, and hopeful, about the next generation.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore
18 September 2019
Dear children of today and of tomorrow,
Thirty years ago, against the backdrop of a changing world order – the fall of the Berlin Wall, the decline of apartheid, the birth of the world wide web – the world united in defence of children and childhood. While most of the world’s parents at the time had grown up under dictatorships or failing governments, they hoped for better lives, greater opportunities and more rights for their children. So, when leaders came together in 1989 in a moment of rare global unity to make a historic commitment to the world’s children to protect and fulfil their rights, there was a real sense of hope for the next generation.
So how much progress have we made? In the three decades following the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in spite of an exploding global population, we have reduced the number of children missing out on primary school by almost 40 per cent. The number of stunted children under 5 years of age dropped by over 100 million. Three decades ago, polio paralyzed or killed almost 1,000 children every day. Today, 99 per cent of those cases have been eliminated. Many of the interventions behind this progress – such as vaccines, oral rehydration salts and better nutrition – have been practical and cost-effective. The rise of digital and mobile technology and other innovations have made it easier and more efficient to deliver critical services in hard-to reach communities and to expand opportunities.
Yet poverty, inequality, discrimination and distance continue to deny millions of children their rights every year, as 15,000 children under 5 still die every day, mostly from treatable diseases and other preventable causes. We are facing an alarming rise in overweight children, but also girls suffering from anaemia. The stubborn challenges of open defecation and child marriage continue to threaten children’s health and futures. Whilst the numbers of children in school are higher than ever, the challenge of achieving quality education is not being met. Being in school is not the same as learning; more than 60 per cent of primary school children in developing countries still fail to achieve minimum proficiency in learning and half the world’s teens face violence in and around school, so it doesn’t feel like a place of safety. Conflicts continue to deny children the protection, health and futures they deserve. The list of ongoing child rights challenges is long.
And your generation, the children of today, are facing a new set of challenges and global shifts that were unimaginable to your parents. Our climate is changing beyond recognition. Inequality is deepening. Technology is transforming how we perceive the world. And more families are migrating than ever before. Childhood has changed, and we need to change our approaches along with it.
So, as we look back on 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we should also look ahead, to the next 30 years. We must listen to you – today’s children and young people – about the issues of greatest concern to you now and begin working with you on twenty-first century solutions to twenty-first century problems.
With that in mind, here are eight reasons why I’m worried for your future, and eight reasons why I think there is hope:
1. You need clean water, clean air and a safe climate
2. One in four of you are likely to live, and learn, in conflict and disaster zones
3. We must make it OK to talk about mental health
4. Over 30 million of you have migrated from your place of birth
5. Thousands of you will officially never exist, unless we act
6. You need twenty-first century skills for a twenty-first century economy
7. Your digital footprint must be protected
8. You might be the least trusting generation of citizens ever