As the global community observes Universal Children’s Day, it is sad to note that children growing up in today’s world are among the most vulnerable, and face the most severe risks than at any other time in recent history.
The war in Syria, which started nearly five years ago, has negatively affected more than two million children. War deprived them of their families, their homes, and the comforts we often take for granted. These children remain vulnerable while some countries that pledged to protect them are closing their doors, leaving these children homeless, stateless, hungry and abandoned.
The Syrian children of war are not unique. Children in every culture and at every stratum of society face various forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.
Even here at home, many children have suffered tragic and painful violence as their lives were taken and recently, we were horrified to learn of the experiences of Artie Ramkhelawan who survived her attack, and Keyra Singh who died of a gunshot wound.
Some of the worst abuse takes place at home from parents and family, in our schools, in other institutions and in the community. Too often society shuts its eyes to child trafficking, physical and humiliating treatment and other forms of violence that seriously affect a child’s dignity, development and physical and psychological integrity.
As adults and as leaders, we all share a solemn responsibility to do all that we must to ensure that all children are protected, and saved from abusive situations.
Sixty-one years ago on December 14, 1954 the General Assembly of the United Nations urged its member states to institute a Universal Children’s Day to create worldwide fraternity and understanding among children. The world body followed that in 1959 with the declaration of UNIVERSAL CHILDREN’S DAY to be celebrated on November 20 each year and in 1989 it adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
All these steps were intended to formalize a promise that world leaders would do everything to protect and promote the rights of children. Today the world is far from fulfilling that pledge to take every possible measure to protect the rights of children “to survive and thrive, to learn and grow, to make their voices heard and to reach their full potential”.
With multi-lateral arrangements, strong public policy and legislation already in place, we have no excuse for failing to protect children, and we must do more, starting now.
We must ensure that children not only survive but also thrive, become educated and are protected them from violence so they can grow with love and affection and become respected and responsible members of society.
As Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, I ensured that the Children’s Authority became functional. My first act as the country’s leader was to pursue a Children’s Life Fund, which to date has saved the lives of more than 200 of our children. We built and equipped a Children’s Hospital that is still unopened. My Government also focused on education, guaranteeing the right of children to a good education from nursery to tertiary.
The foundation is strong, and the work to protect children must continue.
On this day commemorating Universal Children’s Day I therefore urge everyone – citizens, community activists, lawmakers and leaders at home and abroad to make a firm resolution to protect children everywhere from every form of violence so they can sleep in comfort and grow into the adults God intended them to be.
If the society we build depends on the way we treat our children, then it is our responsibility to ensure that no child suffers, and every child has the opportunity to learn, grow and live happily.
THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, MRS KAMLA PERSAD-BISSESSAR
ON THE OCCASION OF UNIVERSAL CHILDREN’S DAY – NOV. 20, 2015