On 20th November 1989, the world agreed that the rights of children needed to be protected in a more formal and systematic manner. The resulting Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely signed human rights treaty in history, and is the global community’s promise to children everywhere.
The Convention changed the way children are viewed and treated – i.e., as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.
The unprecedented acceptance of the Convention clearly shows a wide global commitment to advancing children’s rights. After all, children are the future of any community, society and nation.
This year marks 25 years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention, which Rwanda ratified shortly afterwards in 1990.
The Convention’s 25th anniversary in Rwanda is combined with the 10th National Children’s Summit and themed‘20 Years and Beyond: Advancing Child Rights in Rwanda.’
The event presents an opportunity to look at what has been achieved in the 20 years after the liberation as well as ask what still needs to be done, by whom, and how to fast track results for children within the Sustainable Development Goals.
The work of the One UN in Rwanda, particularly that of Unicef is central to answering these questions. We continue to provide collective support to the Government of Rwanda and dedicate our combined efforts to advancing the rights of all children in the country, especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Over the last twenty years, Rwanda’s children have seen real improvements in their lives thanks to fruitful collaboration between the government, civil society, development partners and other stakeholders.
As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Convention there is much to celebrate, from declining infant mortality to rising school enrolment.
In fact, Rwanda is a leader with the highest improvement in child survival in East and Southern Africa with under-five mortality falling by two-thirds since 1990. Rwanda has the highest primary school enrolment rates in Africa.
For both boys and girls, it is on track to achieve universal access to primary education by 2015.
As Alex Murenzi, the president of the National Children’s Forum says “For every country, children need to go to school. Education will help us to develop ourselves. Education gives us good leaders”.
But despite these successes and the rapid economic growth registered by the country, much more needs to be done to reduce disparities and help children live in dignity, making choices about their futures and reaching their full potential. All to ensure no child is left behind.
My sincere vote of thanks goes to the Government of Rwanda and President Paul Kagame in particular, for the astute leadership and commitment to the children of Rwanda.
The Government has continued to invest in children by providing extensive services to the poorest families which enables children to access the basic services from their early stages in life. A case in point is the recently approved Justice for Children Policy – keeping children at the heart of the agenda.
Investing in children is fundamental to breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty and giving all children a fair start in life. Reducing child poverty should become an explicit policy priority with well-defined targets and accountability.
Investing in children must be at the crux of every public institution and NGO’s growth strategy. Greater investment in social protection, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable children, is critical to improving equity.
Social protection, from early childhood through adolescence, not only reduces poverty but also has a knock-on effect on health, nutrition and education. Clear lines of accountability and effective monitoring are also critical, and where possible, civil society, children and adolescents themselves should help monitor progress. It is therefore comforting that the Government of Rwanda has placed all these principles at the heart of its medium and long-time development strategies.
As the One UN in Rwanda, we are united in our belief that everybody has an obligation and the potential to do more to realize the rights of every single child in the country.
Not only is this a moral imperative, but isan economic necessity. Our children, the future leaders of this country, hold the key to well-being and prosperity for future generations they depend on us.
In commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Convention and the 10th Anniversary of the Children’s Summit, I call on each one of us to do more for the children and adolescents of Rwanda and to continue transforming the future of the country by prioritizing child rights and investing in the well-being of all children.
This historic milestone serves as an urgent reminder that, despite our tremendous progress along the path to realizing the rights of all children, more still remains to be done.
I believe that fulfilling children’s rights equitably is crucial to the country’s future and we are all responsible. Join us on this journey.
The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator for Rwanda