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Children have the right to good quality healthcare - the best health care possible – to safe drinking water, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment, and information to help them stay healthy. Rich countries should help poorer countries achieve this.


Each child has the right to live, to survive and to develop healthy. This, together with all children’s rights, is registered of the Convention of the Rights of the Child of the UN.


Unfortunately these basic human rights are not natural to all children in the World. Especially poor children in developing countries lack many of their rights.


To remind the world of children’s rights, the UN proclaimed the 20th of November as Universal Children’s Day. This was proclaimed in 1954, to encourage all countries to promote mutual exchange and understanding amongst children and to initiate action to benefit and promote the welfare of children in the world.


The Convention of the Rights of the Child


Exact five years after the proclamation of Childrens Day, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and in 1989, the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), was adopted. Nowadays the CRC has been ratified by 191 states. The CRC is a human rights treaty setting out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. In this Convention a child is defined as a human being under the age of eighteen, unless an earlier age of majority is recognized by a country’s law.


The Convention deals with child-specific needs and rights and requires that states act in the best interests of the child. These rights are mentioned in 54 articles and two Optional Protocols. The basic human rights for all children worldwide are registered: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. The four core principles of the Convention are non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child. Every right spelled out is inherent to the human dignity and harmonious development of every child.

All rights mentioned in the convention are interconnected and of equal importance and applicable to all children, rather than a privilege enjoyed by a few. Despite this, unfortunately still many children suffer from poverty, homelessness, abuse, neglect, preventable diseases, unequal access to education and justice systems that do not recognize their special needs. These are problems that occur in both industrialized and developing countries.


Special care and protection


In adopting the Convention, the international community recognized that people under 18 years often need special care and protection that adults do not. Human rights apply to all age groups. Children have the same general human rights as adults. But children are particularly vulnerable and so they also have particular rights that recognize their special need for protection.


The articles of the Convention, in addition to laying the foundational principles from which all rights must be achieved, call for the provision of specific resources, skills and contributions necessary to ensure the survival and development of children to their maximum capability. Also standards for health care, education and legal, civil and social services for children are set in the Convention. The articles also require the creation of means to protect children from neglect, exploitation and abuse.


The right to be heard


The articles of the Convention are grouped into four categories of rights and a set of guiding principles, namely: survival and development rights, protection rights and participation rights and guiding principles. The guiding principles represent the underlying requirements for any and all rights to be realized, like for example the right to life, survival and development. The second group (survival and development rights) are rights to the resources, skills and contributions needed for a child to survive and develop. These amongst others include: adequate food, healthcare, clean water and shelter. Protection rights include a child’s protection from abuse, exploitation, neglect and cruelty. The last group of rights (participation rights) exist of the rights for a child to be heard, to have an opinion and the right to information.


Children’s understanding of rights will vary depending on age. Parents in particular should adjust the issues they discuss, the way in which they answer questions and discipline methods, to the age and maturity of the individual child. Also the responsibilities of the parents are registered in the CRC. If parents do not have the necessary resources to support their children, governments must help families to protect the children’s rights and create and environment where they can grow and reach their potential. Rich countries should help poorer countries to achieve this. To help stem the growing abuse and exploitation of children worldwide, the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 adopted two Optional Protocols to the Convention to increase the protection of children from involvement in armed conflicts and from sexual exploitation.


Children in Sub Saharan Africa


Unfortunately these rights are not always guaranteed for poor children in developing countries. One of Africa’s major ngo’s is working in Sub Saharan Africa and focussing on better health in this region. A big focus is also on the health (and education) of children, since they form the new generation and therefore the future of a country.


In sub-Saharan Africa child mortality is very high. Almost 4 million children under five die here every year. The majority of these deaths are caused by malaria, diarrhoea, AIDS related diseases and acute respiratory infections. Also many babies die during their first month because of complications during pregnancy and labour or from infections. Many of these deaths could have been prevented through basic interventions, clean water and sanitation. AMREF has different projects focussing on the health of (small) children, where the mothers of the children get education on how they can prevent diseases and recognize symptoms so they can go to the nearest medical post if necessary.


The right to education


 All children have the right to a primary education, which should be free. Wealthy countries should help poorer countries achieve this right. Discipline in schools should respect children’s dignity. For children to benefit from education, schools must be run in an orderly way - without the use of violence. Any form of school discipline should take into account the child's human dignity. Therefore, governments must ensure that school administrators review their discipline policies and eliminate any discipline practices involving physical or mental violence, abuse or neglect. The Convention places a high value on education. Young people should be encouraged to reach the highest level of education of which they are capable.


Many of the projects of the before mentioned ngo also focus on water, sanition and hygiene and education. To start with the last: education has a logical link with healthcare. If children are healthy, they can attend school and pay more attention to the classes. And if there is clean drinking water nearby their villages, children (mainly girls) do not have to walk many hours to fetch water, and can go to school instead. If there are hygienic and sufficient latrines at school more girls will stay in school after they reach puberty and their menstruation.

On the other hand more children stay healthy if they attend school: pupils have classes about hygiene and sanitation and learn how to stay healthy. This information they can share with their families and other community members. Sometimes children receive a nutritious breakfast or lunch at school and often clean water and life saving vaccines.


Unfortunately in many countries there is still no equality in education for boys and girls. If the family can afford school fees for only one child, it will be likely the boy who will attend. A girl often has to help with housework and to fetch water. Girls will also more likely to be withdrawn from school in early adolescence to get married. Girls have the right to go to school and their education has effects on their children, and therefore on future generations.


Girls are more likely to stay healthy if they go to school. At school they will be trained in reproductive health which creates fewer occurrences of HIV infections and STD´s. Also they will probably have healthier pregnancies and deliveries which will also create healthier babies. When girls are at school they are in a safe environment and have less chance to experience sexual violence (as often happens when they have to walk long distances alone to fetch water). Girls with a good education are more likely to find a job and be financially independent in case they end up alone; women are often forced to work in the sex trade to survive when their husband leaves them or dies. In general, educated girls will marry later and have less children, who in turn will be more likely to survive and be better nourished and educated. In general it can be concluded that educating girls is the single most effective policy to raise overall economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, educate the next generation and promote health.


*Jacqueline Lampe is director of AMREF Flying Doctors in the Netherlands.

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