Defending the Rights of Children

In recognition of Universal Children's Day on November 20, here's how sponsorship helps CI agencies defend the rights of kids

By Damon Guinn

Sponsorship empowers and protects kids who might otherwise be denied basic human rights.

It's no secret that children in the world's poorest countries are frequently treated like second-class citizens. Deprived of education, forced to work long hours for little or no pay, and required to take on adult responsibilities, many children continue to be denied basic human rights and, in the process, their innocence.

In an effort to end widespread neglect and abuse of children, the United Nations created Universal Children's Day in 1954, calling on all nations to recognize and uphold the inalienable rights of children regardless of race, gender, religion or political affiliation. Five years later, on November 20, the UN adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

"Whereas mankind owes to the child the best it has to give…" the Declaration's Preamble reads…"The General Assembly Proclaims this Declaration of the Rights of the Child to the end that he may have a happy childhood and enjoy his own good and for the good of society the rights and freedoms herein set forth…."

Those rights include everything from equal treatment under the law to free and compulsory elementary education. The Declaration even entitles every child to a name and a nationality, which, surprisingly, may be missing from records in countries with shifting borders or political conflict or in communities where birth certificates are uncommon. Then there is Principle 8, which states: "The child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief."

Obviously, enforcing those rights is easier said than done. It requires a level of oversight that underdeveloped countries can rarely afford. That's why humanitarian organizations like Children International are so important: they promote and protect children's rights in communities that lack the means to do so.

In India, sponsored youth conduct rallies to advocate children's rights in their communities.

It takes a village

The primary way Children International defends the rights of children is through its child protection policy. Agency staff members undergo training on how to detect and handle cases of child abuse, including various counseling techniques, then work to promote awareness among sponsored children and youth, their families and community members. Mothers and volunteers play a crucial role in that regard – they reported 63 percent of all abuse cases to staff in 2011, a result CI's agencies attribute to improved awareness and training in the field.

When cases of abuse are identified, our agencies refer children and families to partner organizations that provide the victims with essential medical, legal and psychological support. Children International further tracks instances of abuse through its electronic medical records system, which enables staff doctors to add signs of abuse to a child's medical record during exams using a series of prompts recommended by UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

CI agencies also reinforce children's rights through Aflatoun, a social and financial education program. One aspect of the program teaches young people how to obtain an ID card – a document many lack but one that's usually required to access public health care and education. An ID card is also required for a youth to open a bank account and begin working toward financial independence, which is what the program strives to achieve.

And then there are the numerous workshops and rallies our agencies and Youth Councils host to keep the rights of children front and center in their communities. The Philippines is especially active when it comes to organizing those events. CI agencies there just wrapped up a month's worth of activities for National Children's Month this past October.

Children and youth in the Philippines' densely populated slums encounter threats on a daily basis, but staff and volunteers at CI's agencies help monitor their safety.

In Manila, sponsored children and youth hosted parades and public forums on children's rights and voiced their opposition to violence in their communities, and a separate delegation of youth attended the Philippine National Children's Conference. Mariane, one of the delegates, said the conference gave youth like her "the chance to call the national government to the problems affecting children and make suggestions on how to address them…not only for the government at the national level but also in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations."

In nearby Tabaco, the Youth Council held a workshop called "Guard Your Rights" in an effort to teach every sponsored child how to protect themselves against abuse, while sponsored youth in Quezon City learned online safety and how to protect their identities from online predators. Another group attended an anti-bullying forum, and a separate contingent of youth and parents was invited to an event hosted by the Center for the Protection and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse, where they learned simple strategies such as "Say No, Run and Tell."

It's not just the Philippines, though. Nearly every CI agency finds unique ways to celebrate children's rights at some point during the year, combining fun carnival-style events with educational workshops and community-awareness campaigns. It may take the form of street-theater performances in India or the Dominican Republic. It could be an art exhibit at a community center in Colombia or sponsored youth passing out pamphlets at an expo in Ecuador or Chile.

Regardless of the method, Children International is dedicated to defending the rights of children and will continue to fight for their safety and well-being with your support.

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