Every child has a right to childhood. Every child has the right to be free from malnutrition and violence and to enjoy access to education and health care. It has to be so regardless of income, geography, gender or identity. A child must not be at risk of being robbed of its childhood and future potential because he was unlucky to be born in a certain place. As LAFF, we believe these concepts are fundamental. They are the guiding principles of our actions as well as what we try to work for.
This article summarises the End of Childhood Report 2018 published by Save the Children and in particular it discusses the issues that arise in countries affected by poverty, armed conflicts and discrimination against girls. In the second part, the article focuses on how those three threats impact the right to education, that is particularly important for us as it is LAFF main focus.
The concept and the countries’ shared vision of childhood has been defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
Children have the right to survival, food and nutrition, health and shelter. They also have the right to be encouraged and educated, both formally and informally, and to live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation.
However, the End of Childhood Index 2018 which is discussed on the End of Childhood Report 2018 published by Save the Children discloses the alarming information that over half of the world’s children are at risk for an early end of their childhood. The overall situation seems more favorable in 95 out of 175 countries compared to the year 2017 but at the same time it appears to be worse in 40 countries and among poorest children and children most affected by conflicts (TMFOE, 2018).
This clearly highlights how more needs to be done to ensure that no child is left behind.
The End of Childhood Index compares countries by a set of indicators that signal the disruption of childhood. These indicators are poor health, malnutrition, exclusion from education, child labor, child marriage, early pregnancy and extreme violence. These are mostly present where three threats overlap. These are poverty, armed conflict and discrimination against girls.
Children raised in poverty start life in a position of strong disadvantage with respect to those that are not. They experience material, social and emotional deprivation, less access to services and impoverished living conditions. They are more likely to die during their childhood and to experience malnutrition (stunting, acute malnutrition but also obesity).
Children in poverty are also less likely to go to school or, if they do, to be successful in their studies, while they are more likely to be forced into work and to experience child marriage. Additionally, girls in a condition of poverty tend to get pregnant at an earlier age compared to their luckier counterparts (TMFOE, 2018).
Child poverty is a widespread issue. 47 out of the 185 countries analyzed in the End of Childhood Index are characterized by widespread poverty and 20% of the children in developing countries live in extreme poverty (TMFOE, 2018). This is a proof that poverty exist in all contexts and that therefore all countries have to fight it.
Children that are raised in a condition of poverty are likely to carry the consequences of this as adults and to transmit poverty down to the next generation and therefore to perpetuate child poverty. This is why it is fundamental to tackle this issue as soon as possible.
2. ARMED CONFLICT
At least 250 million children nowadays live in conflict-affected countries (TMFOE, 2018). Territories affected by armed conflicts are often characterized by a lack of food and of fundamental services as health care, sanitation and education. Illnesses, malnutrition and early death are therefore constant threats in those areas. Children that live in conflict-affected territories are more likely to work from an early age.
Moreover, conflict makes girls more vulnerable to child marriage for a number of reasons. These are, for example, fear of rape and sexual violence, homelessness, hunger or starvation, to facilitate migration. Child marriage is also used by armed groups as a weapon of war. Children that live in those areas often suffer, witness or fear violence, and this causes deep emotional traumas that have repercussion on their life as adults.
3. DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GIRLS
Many girls in the world still face discrimination with respect to boys. In fact, the End of Childhood index reports that 55 out of 185 countries are characterized by discrimination against girls (TMFOE, 2018).
Even if the situation has substantially improved compared to a few decades ago, far too many girls in the world, especially in certain territories and communities, are still excluded from basic education, and experience child marriage, early pregnancy, sexual violence and unrecognized domestic work.
FOCUSING ON EDUCATION
As LAFF activities are primarily focused around increasing the possibility of children in the Cusco Region of enjoying the right to education, I am now going to discuss how the three threats have an impact on this right.
Education is a fundamental right of the child and is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in several other international human rights instruments.
The right to education is surely one of the most empowering rights. It is necessary for human, social and economic development. In fact, it helps economically and socially marginalised children and adults to lift themselves out of poverty and to participate fully in society. It allows individual to discover and develop their full potential. It ensures human dignity, and promotes individual and collective wellbeing. It is also a key element to achieving sustainable development and lasting peace.
Education is a key factor that can allow children to escape poverty but at the same time poverty now is the biggest obstacle to education. The Report points out how children in low income countries are almost 9 times as likely to be out of school compared to those in high income countries (TMFOE, 2018). Many children that come from poor families do not attend school because the parents cannot sustain the required investment. Moreover, for the family, sending their kid to work might seem a better investment because the returns are immediate compared to the returns to education which can be enjoyed after certain years.
Poor children that go to school are also less likely to be successful because they are not in the same physical, social and emotional condition of their luckier counterparts.
Another threat that disrupt access to education is violent conflict. Often, as a result of conflict, schools are closed or destroyed or children are not sent to school because of fear they will experience violence. Displacement from home caused by conflict has also a strong repercussion on education.
Talking about discrimination against girls, even if worldwide the gender gap in education is narrowing, there are still significant gender disparities in certain parts of the world (TMFOE, 2018). This could be due to cultural norms, poverty, early and forced marriage, teen pregnancy, rural residence, refugee conditions, gender-based violence, disability, etc.
The End of Childhood Report 2018 makes it clear that many children of the world are very far from enjoying their rights and from experiencing a full childhood, free from malnutrition and violence and with access to quality health care and education.
It is not acceptable that, because of where they live or who they are, children risk of being robbed of their childhood and of their future potential. Moreover, this aspect damages the nations in which they live as it deprives them of the talent and energy they need in order to progress.
It is fundamental that governments and international organizations address this issue so that the children furthest behind are reached first and so that, in the foreseeable future, no child will be left behind. We believe that the work that LAFF does is a fundamental contribution to this. In fact, we make a tangible difference on our beneficiaries’ possibility to enjoy the right to education.
(TMFOE, 2018) The many faces of exclusion, End of Childhood Report 2018, Save the Children.
(UEAAR, 2018) Understanding Education as a Right, Right to Education Initiative
(UNESCO, 2018) Right to Education, UNESCO