The Universal Children’s Day is celebrated all around the world today (November 20). While today is a day to celebrate children and the recognition of their rights, it should also remind us of our responsibility as adults, governments, and societies to ensure their protection, well-being, and development. We are living in difficult times and amidst many other challenges we are facing today, the rights of children cannot and must not be forgotten. Children constitute one-third of Pakistan’s population. This is both a challenge and a great asset. The extent to which these children will become healthy and productive members of their societies depends on how well adults, not only parents but governments, international community, and civil societies invest in the social, economic and political institutions which meet their needs. At the tip of the iceberg is the matter of the right and access to quality education and to safe enabling environments.
This special day should also remind us of the 22.6 million children in Pakistan who are out of school. While the figure has slightly decreased from last year’s figure of 24 million, the picture still calls for urgent action. Education is a powerful tool that opens children’s eyes and has the power to change their future. Education also helps build the confidence of children in their own abilities. Education is finally key because it impacts every aspect of our lives as it is the means by which we develop as individuals, and have the chance to come to understand who we are and the world around us. Quality education not only impacts on future income and job security but it also contributes in building responsible citizens capable of accepting others’ views and beliefs. Beyond the economic implications, quality education is an issue of basic human dignity and it teaches children empathy and tolerance.
In Pakistan, the European Union has been partnering with the government in education at the provincial level since 2006. The focus has been to promote access to primary and secondary level education, including, for example a newly launched project in Sindh focusing on early childhood education. This new partnership is to prepare ground for inclusive education along with current continued emphasis on quality education for all and promote lifelong learning, and the empowerment of girls in particular.
Today is the date when in 1959 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It is also the date when in 1989 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child which recognised that all children had special rights, including the right to life, the right to health, the right to play, the right to family life, the right to be protected from violence, the right to not be discriminated against and most significantly the right to education and to have their voices and their views heard. These rights were all deemed equally important and linked to one another. It is promising that Pakistan was one of the early adopters of the Convention of the Rights of the Child on 12 November 1990, illustrating its commitment to the obligation of creating an enabling environment for the children in Pakistan.
Today on the UN Universal Children’s Day the European Union stands with Pakistan to fight the education emergency and to put children back in enabling school environments. Because the EU believes that the ability of children, regardless of their gender, to gain knowledge, to access positive learning opportunities and to apply skills are the building blocks of healthy human development and healthy society. It is the right of each child to have access to quality education and it is our obligation as adults to fight for their unhindered access to this right.