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Children’s rights: Eglantyne Jebb’s incredible legacy


Save the Children's founder, Eglantyne Jebb
Save the Children’s founder, Eglantyne Jebb

This year, 20 November doesn’t just mark Universal Children’s Day – today is the 25th anniversary of governments across the world promising to give all children the same civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights by adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Here at Save the Children, it’s also a chance to reflect on the achievements of the inspirational woman who wrote the first major statement of children’s universal rights: our founder, Eglantyne Jebb.

A groundbreaking statement

Eglantyne achieved a huge amount in her 52 years (read this blog by our CEO, Justin Forsyth, to find out more about her incredible life) but her Declaration on the Rights of the Child is definitely one of her most enduring legacies. This groundbreaking document set down the rights of children that most of us now take for granted, and that are now enshrined in law as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Eglantyne first had the idea for the declaration after deciding that charitable appeals, such as the one she’d launched to help the starving children of Europe in the aftermath of World War One, could only achieve so much.

“A co-operative effort of the nations”

As she wrote to a friend in 1922: “The moment appears to have come when we can no longer expect to conduct large relief actions. If we wish nevertheless to go on working for the children… the only way to do it seems to be to evoke a co-operative effort of the nations to safeguard their own children.”

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the UN’s forerunner, The League of Nations, approving her declaration. Over the years, the original wording has dated but, as you’ll see from our update of the five-point charter below, the beliefs she set out for all the world to read have endured and become accepted as every child’s birthright.

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child

All of us have a duty to give every child the best start in life.

  1. Every child should be given what they need to grow up happy and healthy.
  2. When a child is hungry, they must be fed. When they are sick, they must be cared for. And when they need support, shelter or guidance, they must be given it.
  3. Whenever there is a crisis, children should be the first to receive aid.
  4. Every child should be protected against exploitation, and given the chance to earn a living, when the time comes.
  5. Every child should grow up understanding the importance of using their talents and skills to help others.

They are powerful ideas, but for them to make a difference, we need to act. Around the world, children are still going to bed hungry, scarred by conflict, or living in constant fear of disease or exploitation. They desperately need people to speak up for them and for their rights. Eglantyne Jebb was a loud advocate for children throughout her life and, with the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, she started a conversation that continues to benefit millions of children around the world. It is up to us all to ensure her legacy.

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