Each November 20 – to mark the signing of the UNs Convention of the Rights of the Child – UNICEF celebrates World Children’s Day. 

The Convention on the Rights of the Child or “CRC” is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. It has helped to transform children’s lives around the world. This year – the 30th anniversary of the Convention – is extra special and UNICEF is asking world leaders to commit to overcoming some of the new obstacles facing children and young people as well as to take advantage of new opportunities in the world. 

In comparison with 1989, when the CRC was adopted, a much higher proportion of children born today will survive and thrive because of the strides made in health, nutrition, education and protection. Nevertheless, millions of children today cannot realize their rights to even the most basic of social services. In addition, children today encounter multiple challenges to childhood that were not envisaged 30 years ago. In 1989, there was no world wide web shaping young lives, issues of children’s privacy were seldom discussed, forced migration did not affect children and young people on the massive scale now seen, and the impact of a changing climate was not yet clear. 

Today, it is children who see these new challenges and opportunities most clearly for themselves. Young people are speaking out for their right to a meaningful education, demanding an end to discrimination, marching against violence in schools, striking for action on climate change, campaigning for digital reform and calling on leaders to protect their future. 

The year 2019 is also another critical year for accelerating the SDGs at local, national, regional and global levels. The CRC and the SDGs go hand in hand. The CRC highlights indispensable international standards for ensuring the realisation of the rights of every child. The SDGs articulate a contemporary vision for sustainable social, economic and environmental progress that can be achieved when all people, including children, work together for our peaceful, prosperous and secure future. In sum, children’s rights cannot be realized without the successful implementation of the SDGs and vice versa. The Convention has never been more relevant than it is today in reaching those children who are so often disadvantaged, excluded, and marginalised. 

The Kingdom of Bhutan has achieved major improvements in the lives of children, adolescents, youth and women in recent decades. While considerable challenges remain, these are being increasingly recognized and addressed by the Government, communities, parents, families, the international community, and children themselves. In particular, Bhutan is fostering an ever-stronger commitment to development of its children, especially through Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) for the youngest children aged 0-6 years and through enhanced quality protection, health and education for its adolescents and youth. In doing so, the country can consolidate its historic gains, whilst also addressing inequities – and can move a long way toward realizing its ambitious national hopes and vision.

UNICEF’s work in Bhutan started 45 years ago with support to Rural Water Supply and Sanitation. Since then, our work has expanded, and we are now working hard together with the government and other partners to ensure that every child in Bhutan survives and thrives, every child learns, every child is protected, every child lives in a safe and clean environment, and that every child has a fair chance in life. 

For example, we are helping the ground-breaking approach adopted by the Ministry of Health to accelerate mother and child health, focusing on all health care and cognitive development interventions a young child needs from the moment of conception through to his or her second birthday – or the first Golden 1,000 days of life. Coupled with ensuring good nutrition for adolescent girls, pregnant women and provision of antenatal and postnatal care, this initiative is bringing together the collective efforts of UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, UNAIDS, FAO and the World Food Programme. 

I want to underline that investments in the first 1,000 days of life coupled with fully funding quality ECCD interventions up to the age of 5-6 years, are scientifically proven to be amongst the best investments any society can make towards stability, sustainability and future prosperity – they are likewise one of the smartest economic decisions any country can make. Strong investment in the early years of children’s lives contributes enormously to GNH and can accelerate many key result areas in the Government’s 12th Plan as well as all, I repeat all 17 SDGs. That’s why we call the first 1,000 days of life “Golden”.

Recognizing the pressing need and urgency to accelerate progress and intensify action, and in recognition of the growing adolescent cohort, UNICEF reaffirms our steadfast commitment to upholding and protecting the rights and principles enshrined within the Convention, and to identifying and taking concrete, actionable and time-bound steps towards its full implementation, including within the context of our support for national implementation of the SDGs and through national policies, laws and budgets. 

UNICEF emphasises the importance of Governments working collectively though reinforced partnership and coordination, and together with children themselves, at all ages and including adolescents, as agents of positive change in the promotion, protection and monitoring of their own rights for current and future generations, including in peace and reconciliation processes. UNICEF pledges to further reach and build the capacity of children in this regard, particularly those in the most vulnerable situations, including those affected by humanitarian crises, those from the most deprived and marginalized communities, and in pursuit of sustained gender equality. 

We cannot advance the protection and promotion of children’s rights without knowledge. To this end, UNICEF stresses the need for improved and coordinated, timely, reliable and disaggregated quantitative and qualitative data and information collection and analysis, and the importance of evidence-based and data-driven decision-making and innovation in progressing the rights of children. We also note the importance of investing in systems and tools to better track progress and provide comparable data on the well-being of children. 

Wise investment in children is at the heart of implementing the CRC and in achieving the SDGs. His Majesty The King’s words at the third Convocation of the Royal University of Bhutan 10 years ago, eloquently sum up this same assertion: “A nation’s future will mirror the quality of her youth – a nation cannot fool herself into thinking of a bright future when she has not invested wisely in her children.”

A very happy World Children’s Day!

Contributed by  Dr Will Parks 

UNICEF Bhutan