November 20 marks the 21st anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC is a landmark Convention formulated in 1989, founded upon the collective realisation, understanding and agreement among nations of the world that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance.
The CRC underpins the international agreement articulated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 that the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth. The CRC is the most ratified international treaty, having been signed by all countries of the world, bar two, representing a major milestone in the efforts to achieve a world fit for children.
The Maldives ratified the CRC in 1991, being amongst the earliest signatories to the Convention. Accession to the CRC has achieved substantial benefits for the children of the Maldives. The Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Law 9/91), for example, is derived directly from the provisions stipulated in the CRC, providing a legal basis for the protection of children in the Maldives.
The anniversary of the CRC provides an excellent opportunity to take stock of the achievements Maldives has made in the realisation of the rights of children to survival, development, protection and participation as well as to examine opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Maldives has made remarkable progress in development over the last several years having achieved five out of eight Millennium Development Goals ahead of time, making it the first MDG plus country in South Asia. These achievements demonstrate significant progress for Maldivian children with regard to their survival and development. Initial steps are being taken to establish mechanisms for the protection of children. Family and Children Service Centres have been established in the atolls with the intention of bringing protection services closer to the people. There is also widespread dialogue amongst political and civil leaders, as well as the public at large on issues relating to child protection and a greater demand for more urgent and stringent actions to prevent child abuse.
Despite the substantial progress made for Maldivian children, several challenges remain. While the health and nutrition status of children are improving, malnutrition and under-nutrition of children remains persistent throughout the country with one in five Maldivian children under five years being stunted.
The challenges for sustaining achievements in education at the primary level relate to quality and limited opportunities for children with special needs. Furthermore, the low completion rates at lower secondary level combined with limited opportunities for vocational education and recreational opportunities have lead to a whole host of problems surrounding youth including drug abuse, juvenile delinquency and gang violence.
Children continue to be exploited, abused and neglected. The child protection system lacks capacity, adequate resources and proper coordination between agencies responsible for protection, care and rehabilitation. Additional challenges affecting the realization of children’s right to protection include lack of a proper juvenile justice system, including juvenile justice legislations and comprehensive child rights and child protection legislation.
Article 12 of the Convention stipulates that, “State Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”. Children remain left out of the decision making process in matters affecting them.
Recommendations of the CRC Committee to the Combined Second and Third Report of the Maldives to the UN in 2006 highlight key actions that can accelerate the realization of the rights of Maldivian children. The responsibility for success not only lies with the State, but also with the parents, caregivers, and the community.
Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and civil society groups, as well the media, are essential in monitoring and advocating for child rights. Strong families and communities are central to augmenting the gains made for children. Parents can play a critical role in the all round development of the child by providing love, care and a supportive environment. A mechanism for children’s participation in matters affecting them needs to be put in place. The evidence base needs to be strengthened and utilised to ensure the most vulnerable children are identified and reached. Strategic partnerships between the State and civil society as well as the private sector need to be strengthened to guarantee all Maldivian children have an equal chance to reach their potential.
The anniversary of the CRC is a time for us to revisit the pledge the world made for children. Most importantly, it is a reminder for us of what we have left to do to realize all rights, of all children. On this occasion, let us recall the words of former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan who said, “There is no trust more sacred than the one that the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace”.
Bertrand Mendis is the UNICEF Maldives Representative.
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