This Wednesday, June 01st 2016 many countries around the World will celebrate International Children’s Day (separate from the UN Children’s Day on the 20th November that marks the establishment of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 and also promotes international togetherness and awareness among children worldwide). International Children’s Day has its roots in the 1925 World Conference for the Wellbeing of Children held in Geneva and now takes on a different significance for each country in which it’s celebrated.
For some, this day is used to discuss pressing issues such as child abuse, abandonment and slavery… For others, it is to promote equality of opportunity in education, health and welfare… Others use it as an opportunity to celebrate the more abstract ideas of childhood such as spirit and youth… While many are using it as an opportunity to open up a dialogue for changing the future that we’re leaving to our children.
The UN has also marked June 01st as the Global Day of Parents and with it, noting that “the family has the primary responsibility for the nurturing and protection of children and that children, for the full and harmonious development of their personality, should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” (www.un.org/en/events/parentsday).
While I agree that the family has the primary responsibility for children, this view doesn’t always remember to obligate the wider society in which we live to take responsibility for its role in bringing up our children… So often we blame the parents without taking a look at the community in which this family is living, often with less access to education and decent healthcare for example… A child’s school and its neighbourhood, its city and its country… They all have an integral role in its wellbeing. When the family fails to nurture and protect and until each and every one of these spheres is held accountable, there will always be children falling through the gaps, children denied or left behind, children not protected or kept safe… Children not brought up to fulfil their greatest potential…
For a family to nurture and protect its child, it needs to be supported by the wider framework in which they live. The one in which they give birth… The one that informs and supports their feeding choices and childcare practices… The world in to which their children take their first steps and the chances these children are given to develop and grow.
The WHO has guidelines for birth and breastfeeding… The UN recognizes that we need family-friendly policies to help parents look after their children. But it is the country in which our children live that determines whether these recommendations are put in to practice. High caesarian rates, low numbers of breastfed babies, growing rates of obesity in young children, for starters. Lack of flexi-time and part-time job positions for women… Lack of children’s centres to help educate parents and to take some of the childcare workload off of mothers. Lack of systems in place to help solve family problems and offer assistance to those in need.
There are organisations that are doing good work… Many are working in isolation, with no resources, funding or government-backing. Working without recognition and doing what they can. Many are not enabled or encouraged to work together…
Now is the time for change. Now is the time to take stock of the future that we are offering our children… and the present in which they are growing-up in.
I do think we should celebrate the child and the family. I surely do. They are the cornerstones of our society… The centre of our communities… Our future.
But, I also believe that we should make these celebrations count. We should make sure that they mean something. For all children, not just our own. And in doing so, we should always remember that while we celebrate the positive concepts of childhood and family, that for so many others, these children’s’ reality doesn’t even come close.