2019: 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
As we approach the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the rights of the child there is much to celebrate, from declining infant mortality to rising school enrolment, but this historic milestone must also serve as an urgent reminder that much remains to be done. Too many children still do not enjoy their full rights on par with their peers. (UNICEF.org)
Deprivation as a childhood experience:
The deprivations of child rights to survival and development are concentrated in certain countries, and the key factors associated with a greater likelihood of children being deprived of their right to essential services can be summarized as follows:
• Continent and Region: Africa and Asia present the largest global challenges for children survival, development and protection
• Gender: in 2007, of the estimated 101 million children of appropriate age not attending the primary school, the majority were girls. Besides being a violation of norms and laws in its own right, child marriage, which mostly involves girls, heightens the risk of girls missing out on an education and becoming pregnant in adolescence with health risks to both the mother and the child. Young women are also at increased risk of HIV infection when compared to their male counterparts.
• Household income: children of income-poor families have far higher rates of under-five mortality and are less likely to be in school than children from wealthier families. They are also much more likely to be engaged in child labour.
• Urban\Rural divide: children living in urban areas are much more likely to have access to essential services and commodities than those living in rural areas.
• Mother’s education: it has an impact on the likelihood that the children will survive until age five and beyond, receive adequate nourishment and attend school.
• Disability: children living with disabilities are more likely to miss out on essential services and suffer higher risks of protection abuses (physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal violence). The state is responsible for providing special care and protection for those children.
• Minority or indigenous status: there is a widespread neglect of the rights of children among minority and indigenous populations.
If we take a deep look at these risk factors we can notice that they are closely related one to the other, and the family being the natural environment for the growth of the children plays a major role. For this reason “child should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community” (Convention on the Rights of the Child).
Disparity in access to essential services
Disparity in access to essential services prevents children from realizing their right to survival and development. According to article 4 of the Convention, States parties should “undertake measures to the maximum possible extent of their available resources and where needed, within the framework of international cooperation” with regard to the cultural, economic and social rights of children.
The image above perfectly illustrates that everyone should have access to the same facilities, but since every human being is different from the other, there will inevitably be someone who will need a different support to make it possible to have access to the same services. Our differences, socio/economic background and the presence of all the previously mentioned risk factors can create barriers to the delivery of essential service for children, and for this reason a lot of work is being done in order to reach equity that is the basis of equality.
For those children who are denied survival and development, expanding coverage of essential services will be critical to fulfilling their rights, and it is in this framework that the Shanti Ashram perfectly finds its role, giving physical, mental, spiritual and social care to the children that need it, not only theoretically, but taking concrete action through programs such as the Bala Shanti Program for vulnerable children, Well child Program for children living in poverty, Health education and Deworming services for girls and boys affected by Anaemia, and care and support services through the HIV program for families living with HIV.
An example I bring to you from my internship in India:
A child coming from an adequate-income family will have the possibility to attend school and university, having access to the education and health care that he/she needs. When a child lives in poverty, he/she will probably start going to school but will end up giving it up some years later, and this will have a huge impact on their lives, especially if the child facing this situation is a girl, because the future of a girl that is 12 years old and lives in poverty is out of her control and influenced by so many external factors.
In the eyes of many she is a woman now, she might end up to be married at the age of 14 and to be pregnant at the age of 15, and at this point having no job and no education she might have to sell her body in order to support her family, and this is directly correlated with the risk of contracting and spreading HIV. For all these reasons we have to act before all of this might happen and a perfect example of how this could be done is the Bala Shanti program, that tries to reach the 3-5 year old children of families living in poverty, giving them:
• Physical Support: through ICPH that provides two check ups per year thanks to a pediatrician that goes to the school and directly follows the children at ICPH in case they need special attention; through nutritional programs that provide 400g of proteins per week in order to avoid as much as possible under-nutrition; and through the administration of some vaccines not provided by the government, such as Typhoid and MMR vaccine.
• Mental Support: through a correct education, in order to empower them and their families to demand their rights.
• Social Support: explaining them that outside of their villages there is a world that waits to be explored, because they don’t necessarily have to follow what their parents probably did some years before giving up school and starting to work at the age of 12.
• Spiritual Support: because every religion is accepted in Bala Shanti School and programs of integration are provided.
Ensuring equity and progress of vulnerable children:
In this way the Shanti Ashram reaches equity among the 3-5 y.o. children coming both from adequate income and poor income families, bridging them, so that they will all then have the same possibilities for their future.
The work of the Shanti Ashram doesn’t end up here, because they also follow their children up until they become 18 y.o. meeting them once a year, in order to be sure that their work doesn’t get lost as soon as the 5 y.o. children leave the school.
A further effort has to be done in order to reach the poorest population, and in this context the Sudar program for families living with HIV finds its role. In this case a customized help is needed, because every situation is unique, and the same mental, physical and economical effort that was used for 20 children coming from poor families will now be needed for 1 child only, but this doesn’t mean that this child has to be abandoned. Families living with HIV can be families in which drugs addiction and sexual abuse is also present, and for this reason a multidisciplinary team should find the best solution to help them. The Sudar program tries to achieve this goal by giving:
• Mental and Social Support: through Youth Leadership and Young Empowerment Programs, Counseling, Scholarships.
• Physical Support: tablets and blood tests are provided by the Government but ICPH takes care of all the other check-ups such as growth monitoring. Food supplements are also given once a month to be sure that children and their families get the essential micronutrients.
A lot more than that is done and needs to be done in order to help these families, but overall what Shanti Ashram is doing is taking care of the children with an holistic approach not forgetting any of his/her dimensions, that could be the physical spiritual or mental one, helping them to stand up in front of the community.
They need to be empowered so that they will be able to understand that the fact that they or someone in their family is affected by HIV doesn’t mean that have to be ashamed of it or that they don’t have the same rights of the rest of the community, because everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (Convention on the Rights of the Child).
Another example of what could be done in order to reach equity among the different classes of children is the Deworming Program delivered by the Shanti Ashram. This is a program directed towards children that provides them education and Albendazole in order to deworm them and to prevent anemia. As in every program of the Shanti Ashram the final goal is to look at the child from all the possible different perspectives and to take care of all of them. For this reason some members of the ICPH team every year go to different schools to explain the importance and meaning of deworming, and most importantly they spread awareness about prevention strategies that are related to improved behaviors and practices for hygiene and sanitation. During this occasion they also do height and weight monitoring, nutritional counseling, and mental health counseling. 2627 children from 11 different schools were reached by this program in the last 4 weeks.
Bala Shanti, Sudar, and Deworming Programs are only three of the numerous activities carried out by the Shanti Ashram and ICPH in order to give to every child a healthy start to life. Every child is unique, and every child has to have the same rights on par with their peers in order to overcome disparities.
“Disparity” refers to a lack of equality or similarity in a way that is not fair (Cambridge dictionary), and the challenges that disparities have to face mainly include:
• Child mortality, that is 2 times higher in poorer countries;
• Underweight prevalence, that is more than twice as likely for under-fives who are poor;
• Piped-drinking water connections, more than twice as accessible for urban households;
• Improved sanitation facilities, that are twice as accessible for urban dwellers;
• HIV prevalence, that is 3 times higher among young women in Eastern and Southern Africa than among young men;
• Comprehensive knowledge of HIV, that among young men in South Asia is twice the rate of young women;
• Youth literacy, that among young men is 1.2 times higher than among young women;
• Net secondary school attendance, that in Latin America for boys is 6% lower than for girls;
• Child marriage, that among young women in rural areas of developing world is twice that of young women from cities;
• Birth registration, that is twice as likely for children born in cities than those born in rural areas;
• Attendance of skilled health personnel at delivery, that is 2 times higher for richer women in developing countries;
• Lifetime risk of maternal death that is 300 times greater for women living in the least developed countries.
Key learning points:
Disparity may be bridged through:
A life-cycle approach for vulnerable children: adolescent problem behaviours are inter-related and have similar origins. Focusing on common antecedents rather than the problems themselves is likely to have a deeper, lasting impact. (UNICEF). What happens in pregnancy and the very early stages of childhood will have a profound impact on child and adolescent development. For this reason an investment early on will result in a lifetime of economic, social and personal benefits.
An Outreach program, that is a program designed to help and encourage poor people who might not otherwise have access to essential care services.
Adolescent’s Care and Support Programs in order to empower people in critical situations, such as those living with HIV, to let them understand that they have the same rights of the rest of the community. In this case a customized help is needed and not any adolescent dimension (physical spiritual or mental one) should be forgotten while helping him/her to stand up in front of the community.
The recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. For this and for many other reasons the work performed by the Ashram and ICPH should be an example for all of us, because an international co-operation is of great importance in order to improve the living conditions of children in every country.