Ann M Veneman: With universal standards, we can stop children suffering

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The Independent Online

A historic decision was made on 20 November 1989, when world leaders adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the UN General Assembly. Since its inception 20 years ago, the Convention has become the most-ratified human rights treaty in history.

This is testament to the common understanding among countries and communities that children have the right to survive and develop; to be protected from violence, abuse and exploitation; and for their views to be respected and actions concerning them to be taken in their best interests.

Much has been achieved during the past 20 years. The annual number of under-five deaths has fallen from around 12.5 million in 1990 to less than 9 million in 2008. Between 1990 and 2006, 1.6 billion people worldwide gained access to improved water sources. Globally, around 84 per cent of primary-school-age children are attending school, and gender gaps in primary- school enrolment are shrinking across the developing world.

The agenda for children's rights is far from complete. Millions of children remain without the essential services to help ensure their survival, reduce their vulnerability to disease and undernutrition, provide access to improved water and sanitation, and enable them to obtain quality education. Many children lack the protective environment required to safeguard them from violence, abuse, exploitation, discrimination and neglect.

There is mounting disquiet about climate change and its impact on health, water security and food production; at least 18 violent conflicts since 1990 have involved a struggle for resources. Increased competition for resources will take place in a world with a burgeoning population, potentially exacerbating equities in income and access to vital services. Meeting these challenges will require us to unite for children through judicious investment and broad collaboration, with children and women as key partners.

The challenge for the next 20 years is to build on the progress achieved. The Convention on the Rights of the Child stands as a universal standard for building a better world – a world in which the best interests of children are a primary concern of all.

Taken from the introduction to a Unicef report, The State Of The World's Children, by its executive director