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As 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child approaches, UNICEF asks: Is the world a better place for children?

New analysis says yes, but not for all


Looking ahead to the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on November 20, UNICEF today released new trend data and essays that ask a critical question: “Is the world a better place for children?”

The answer, the UNICEF analyses show, is undeniably “Yes!” A baby born in 2014 has a dramatically improved chance of living to see its fifth birthday. Children today are far likelier to go to primary school than they were in 1989. The number of children aged 5-17 involved in child labour has declined by almost one third since 2000.

But the analyses also show that progress has passed over millions of children – particularly the poor, those who belong to ethnic minorities, who live in rural areas, or those with disabilities.

Millions of children continue to be deprived of essential services that could reduce their vulnerability to disease and under-nutrition, provide them with access to improved water and sanitation, and allow them to obtain a quality education. A disproportionate number of children still live in extreme poverty. And the gap between the highest- and lowest-income households also remains – children from the poorest households have notably higher rates of child mortality and stunting than their richer counterparts.

“The trend data show that globally a child born today is far more likely to survive and thrive than they were 25 years ago. But they also show that in every country and region in the world, many children are being left behind,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt at a children’s forum hosted by Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “To fulfil the promise of the Convention, we need to challenge ourselves to think and act differently to advance the rights of every child, especially the most marginalised and hardest to reach.”

The data and essays show that challenges facing children today have also changed.

Although the number of armed conflicts around the world has decreased from a peak of 52 in 1991, the character of these conflicts has changed. Protracted intra-state hostilities that impact more significantly on civilians, especially children, are now the norm. Children are bearing the brunt of the effects of man-made climate change while the AIDS pandemic, relatively unknown in 1989, has impacted heavily on children, leaving millions orphaned and infected with HIV. Information technology has also had a transformative effect on children: enabling them to communicate beyond their immediate community but also exposing them to online harassment and exploitation.

More positively, the international landscape for children has improved significantly since 1989, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child has been instrumental in this. It became the fastest and most widely adopted human rights treaty in history and it’s almost universal ratification shows unparalleled agreement among nations.

“Twenty-five years ago, the Convention inspired all of us to envision and realise a more just world for children. Our collective challenge now is to reach the children who have been left behind. The promise – and the challenge – of the CRC is its universality – it is for every child,” Brandt said.


The essays are part of an on-going series commissioned by UNICEF to provoke debate and dialogue as the world marks the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The series includes essays by leading thinkers in the fields of development and child rights laying out concrete steps that can be taken to more fully implement the Convention.  Further essays from around the world will be published and available online in the lead up to November 20, Universal Children’s Day that marks the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Convention in 1989.

Read the analysis and essays here: 25 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: Is the World a better place for children?

Excerpts from the essays:

Children’s Rights, Equity, and our common future - Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director
“We have a responsibility now to find new ways of tackling the challenges we have not yet overcome, to reach the children we have not yet reached, and to put equity and children’s rights at the centre of an agenda of action for all children – including those lagging in the march of progress.  This is not only a moral imperative. It is a practical opportunity to accelerate our progress in fulfilling the universal mandate of the Convention, which in turn advances all our development goals because it is cost-effective. Studies show that when we design policies and programmes not around the easiest to reach, but around the hardest to reach, we can achieve more results.  There are additional costs in doing so, but our analyses show that these costs are well outweighed by the additional results.”

The Genesis and spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - Kirsten Sandberg, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and Professor at the University of Oslo
“While much has been achieved for children during the 25 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the agenda for child rights is far from complete. None of the recent phenomena that we experience today – the frenetic pace of global change, the challenge of widening disparities, the digital revolution and a multipolar world – could have been envisaged in 1989 when the Convention was adopted. As we approach the Millennium Development Goal deadline, and as discussions and drafting of the post-2015 Development Agenda are under way, new ideas and approaches are required to tackle the unfinished business and to ensure that all obligations made under the Convention are upheld.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child: Delivery on the promise for children is long overdue - Kevin Watkins, Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute
“Major advances in many areas of child wellbeing have been achieved during the past two decades. Under-five mortality has been reduced to half the levels registered in 1990, and the annual rate of reduction has accelerated.  The numbers of children out of school have declined, and gender disparities in education are narrowing. Strengthened economic growth in developing countries has contributed to a rapid reduction in poverty. Yet despite these impressive gains, or perhaps because of them, insufficient attention has been paid to whether patterns of progress meet the criteria for non-discrimination and equity established by the Convention.  In focusing on national averages, the reporting systems developed to monitor progress towards the MDGs have deflected attention from the disparities behind the averages.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child:  What it would mean to fulfill its potential - Jody Heymann, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology, University of California Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health, and Amy Raub, Senior Research Analyst, WORLD Policy Analysis Center
“To accelerate change, we need to take advantage of the information and communications technology revolution that has accelerated since the adoption of the Convention, and to provide actionable real-time information to citizens, civil society and government leaders alike. Everyone should be able to access updated information about what countries are doing via their cell phones. Electronic maps should readily show what steps countries have taken and where gaps remain.  Action steps that leaders directly take like passing laws and enacting policies relevant to each article of the Convention should be readily visible to all, as should measures of implementation.”

Is the world a better place for children? A statistical analysis of progress - UNICEF
“As the world marks this anniversary, it is vital that we do more than simply take account of successes and failures. As important as it is to achieve universal ratification of the Convention, we must also continue our work for universal implementation. We cannot afford to continue at the same pace for the next 25 years. Unless efforts are stepped up, the rights of millions of children will continue to be violated.


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

About the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
The Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly recognizes the universal rights of all children. It is the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history and has inspired changes in laws and practice that have improved the lives of millions of children in every region of the world.


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