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Children’s rights are human rights: Why human rights must be at the heart of development

My  parents moved to the United States from India over 30 years ago at great cost, dislocating themselves from their loved ones and the only lives they knew, to ensure my siblings and I would have futures in which we could flourish. But no parent should have to uproot themselves to give their children the rights that every child deserves regardless of the situation into which they are born.

So while this Human Rights Day we celebrate that, in the 25 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world has seen a significant reduction in deaths of children under five, we know that life isn’t just about survival. Life, most fundamentally, is about living with dignity. It’s about growing up in a world that doesn’t discriminate against you on the basis of your race, wealth, sexual orientation, gender or any other status. It’s about being able realise your capabilities as a human being. It’s about having a voice in the decisions that affect your life. We cannot and should not aspire to a world that accepts anything less for all children.

A children’s club in Nepal discusses how to end child marriage in their district.
(photo: Suzanne Lee/Save the Children)

Now, as we shape the global development agenda for 2015 and beyond, it’s more important than ever that human rights are put at the heart of development. Because without protecting and promoting human rights, we’ll never reach the goals we plan to set this coming year.

Human rights contain important principles and tools that can help us make sense of development and guide us towards what we should do to try to change the lives of children:

  • Protecting the dignity and autonomy of the individual: Children around the world continue to suffer from great infringements on their dignity and autonomy including criminal laws and other punitive measures, exploitation, violence and abuse.
  • Paying special attention to vulnerable and marginalised groups: Without a focus on vulnerable and marginalised groups, we won’t be able to go the last mile and provide support to those children who are worst off. These groups must be given extra attention in policy-making and programming.
  • Focusing on nondiscrimination and equality: Paying special attention to vulnerable and marginalised groups means taking into account and addressing various forms of discrimination. Deeply rooted discriminatory policies and practices drastically limit the development outcomes of these groups. Such policies and practices must be addressed.
  • Setting up mechanisms for accountability and legal obligations: It’s easy to forget, but human rights are laws that nearly all countries have agreed to. These set obligations for governments and provide real legal tools by which to hold governments accountable for the harmful things they do and the good things they must do, but don’t.
  • Promoting community participation in decision-making and community mobilisation: Development can never truly be sustainable unless the voices of affected communities are included and communities are given a stake in their own futures. Human rights require the inclusion of affected communities in all decisions that affects them.

So today and this coming year, let’s remember that children’s rights are human rights and we must not and cannot accept the status quo. Not when children are still made to work instead of attending school; bullied and harassed because of their gender, sexual orientation or gender identity; or allowed to die from treatable diseases because suitable medicines haven’t been made for them.


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