Millions of vulnerable children at risk as governments fail to renew pledges to protect their rights

Child rights organisations express outrage at global inaction as the UN marks the 30th anniversary of the most widely ratified international human rights treaty

The lives of millions of vulnerable children are at risk because the majority of the world’s nations have failed to renew their commitment to children’s rights, six leading international child rights organisations have warned.

The agencies, members of the Joining Forces coalition, expressed dismay that only a handful of countries have made concrete commitments to advance children’s rights to mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 November.

Less than half of all countries have so far adopted the ‘For every child, every right’ global pledge to redouble action for children, at the invitation of UNICEF and the United Nations.

Worse still, less than 50 countries have submitted national pledges and almost none of the countries with the highest rates of child poverty and deprivation have made any commitments.

“There are millions of children who have been left behind,” said Meg Gardinier, secretary general of ChildFund Alliance and chair of Joining Forces. “For all we have achieved since 1989, their suffering is a grave breach of the promises made to children 30 years ago. It is imperative that states work with renewed vigour and urgency to realize the rights of all children.”

The six agencies urged governments to make specific policy commitments for children or pledge increased investments in areas such as education, health or social protection.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history. It has prompted substantial investment in children’s health, education and safety and the adoption of laws and policies that recognise the rights of children, particularly in areas where they are vulnerable, including labour exploitation, corporal punishment, alternative care and forced and early marriage.

However, the coalition expressed grave concern that despite extraordinary advances in the last three decades, the lives of too many children remain blighted.

Andrew Morley, President and Chief Executive Officer of World Vision International, said: “Shocking numbers continue to die from preventable causes, with millions more missing school or facing heart-breaking abuse. An estimated 12 million girls under 18 are married each year. I recently met an 8-year-old girl in East Africa who had been subjected to FGM and forced marriage. Her childhood was stolen and her future devastated. We cannot stand by and allow this atrocity to keep happening.”

The Joining Forces report: A Second Revolution: 30 Years of Child Rights, and the Unfinished Agenda, showed commitments made three decades ago to protect the rights of children remain unfulfilled for millions. Violence still affects countless children. Discrimination based on age, gender, disability, sexual orientation and religion harms children worldwide.

Key factors include a lack of investment in critically important services. Most countries fall well short of spending the 5-6% of GDP needed to ensure universal coverage of essential health care.  And foreign aid, which many lower income countries rely on, is falling short in areas such as health and education.

Another factor, the report said, is the lack of quality data. Governments tend to rely on data that reflects national averages, making it difficult to identify the needs of specific children and to monitor progress. Comprehensive data collection and disaggregation of data by gender, age, disability and locality, are increasingly important as rights violations disproportionally affect disadvantaged children.

Existing statistics show that poverty is still the single greatest determinant of outcomes for a child. Children in the poorest 20% of households are 40% more likely than average to die before their fifth birthday. Young children in the poorest families, as well as in rural and remote areas, are 2 to 3 times more likely to suffer stunted physical growth. And children worldwide are twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty.

Joining Forces

Joining Forces is an alliance of six leading international NGOs working with and for children under the age of 18 to secure their rights and end violence against them.

The alliance comprises ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children International, SOS Children’s Villages International, Terre des Hommes International Federation and World Vision International.

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The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) announced Nigel Spence as the recipient of its Outstanding Contribution to the Sector Award at the ACFID annual conference dinner in Sydney last night.

This award is presented to an organisation or individual who, over an extended period, has made a significant and positive impact on the Australian aid and development NGO sector. In particular, the awards recognises those contributions made above and beyond paid employment.

President of ACFID Susan Pascoe said: “The award is in recognition of Nigel’s four decades of committed, enthusiastic and tireless advocacy for children, both in the domestic and international development sector.”

Nigel began his career in 1981 as a Social Worker supporting children at risk, and their families, in Western Sydney, and was later appointed Director for Children and Youth Services at Centacare, Catholic Community Services in Sydney, with responsibility for all aspects of the agency’s services for children and young people.

In 1997, Nigel was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer at the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies, leading the Association and the child protection sector to achieve significant improvements in legislation, policy and services for vulnerable children, youth and their families.

In early 2006, Nigel joined ChildFund Australia as CEO and over the last 14 years has led the organisation through significant growth and change. Under his leadership, ChildFund Australia has expanded its programs for children and young people in Vietnam and Papua New Guinea, and commenced new operations in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Timor-Leste and the Pacific.

ChildFund Australia has also supported programs delivered by ChildFund Alliance members, in East and Southern Africa, and provided emergency assistance to children impacted by humanitarian disasters. Nigel has been instrumental in ensuring ChildFund’s programs have adapted to the changing needs of children, expanding beyond its original scope to respond to the critical issues of child protection, children’s resilience, risk preparedness, and responses to conflicts and disasters.

Innovative programming has included ChildFund’s award-winning sport for development program, ChildFund Pass It Back where the organisation’s effectiveness in combining sport and life-skills education has resulted in ChildFund being awarded World Rugby’s principal charity partner for the Rugby World Cup 2019.

Ms Pascoe noted that Nigel’s impact in the international development sector has extended well beyond his role at ChildFund Australia. Nigel has been a leading contributor to ChildFund’s global network, the ChildFund Alliance, including his roles as a Board Director, Executive Committee member and Co-Chair of the CEO Forum.

Nigel was also a leading member of the ACFID Board for many years in his capacity as ACFID Vice President (Finance) and has been active in ACFID advocacy activities, such as addressing gender-based violence in the Pacific, children’s rights in international development, the declining Australian Aid budget, education and health issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ms Pascoe added: “It is the quality of your service that we wish to recognise; your generosity and your wealth of experience and expertise that you bring to the sector.

“‘Genuine’ and ‘authentic’ are words frequently used to describe you, both within ChildFund and amongst others in the sector who have had the privilege to work with you. Congratulations on this well-deserved honour.”