When I excitedly told my 10-year old daughter yesterday that 17-year old Malala Yousafzai had won the Nobel Peace Prize, she said, "Yes - I know about her. I bought her autobiography last month with my grandmother." My heart swelled with a mother's pride. But when I told her that Malala had shared this prize with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian activist who rescued children from slavery, she looked disturbed. Although she viscerally knows that girls like her should go to school, it was harder for her to understand that millions of children were held in virtual bondage. I showed her pictures of children "rescued" from appalling work conditions. Religious fundamentalists and unethical businesses can both be obstacles to children's human rights.
And I thought to myself: A "teaching moment" as a parent!
But then I realized that this was a learning moment for me too.
I know full well that ensuring and respecting the human rights of each child is essential to eradicating poverty, raising global living standards, reducing unemployment and creating more peaceful societies. As a human rights lawyer and activist, I know that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history, protects children (defined as anyone under the age of 18) from economic exploitation and the right to education.
Yet, I also know that human rights are often violated on a staggering scale, almost always in the most marginalized communities. So, where do we stand on children's human rights right now? Where have we made progress? What are our continuing challenges?
Here are two bright spots when thinking about children. Over the past two decades:
-90 million MORE children have lived past the age of 5; and
-Primary school enrollment has improved. In low and middle-income nations, school admissions improved from 53% to 81%.
These are enormous milestones to celebrate. But, at the same time, it is mind boggling to be reminded that:
-At least 250 million children around the world cannot read or count.
-15% of the world's children, often estimated to be around 200 million children, engage in child labor.
-11% of the world's girls are married before the age of 15.
-Although it is difficult to know the full extent of the problem, in 2002, it was known that:
-150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 have experienced forced sexual violence and intercourse.
-A minimum of 1.2 million children were being trafficked around the world.
As both a conscious world citizen and a human rights lawyer, I want to know how we all can be a part of a solution to these problems. Yes, we need to ensure that governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations continue to focus on children's human rights. Yes, we need to build systems of accountability for children at all levels - international, national and local. Yes, we need data to track outcomes and measure progress. And yes, we all need to work in each of our own ways to contribute to solving these problems, from assisting children in our own communities to trying to support the lives of children who may seem far away.
But perhaps the most powerful weapon we have in the war for children's rights is our own children. If I can succeed in raising my 10-year old daughter to be aware of the plight of children and to understand that she can be a part of a global solution seeking community, then perhaps I would have made the greatest contribution to the future. I know that some parents might feel that this is too much of a "burden" to place on a child. But I have always believed that, with privilege comes responsibility. More importantly, long-term solutions to the problems must come from those most affected by these challenges.
Arming our children with a sense of being part of a global community that has collective responsibility for improving children's lives is the key to winning a long-term battle for a better world for all.
After all, children are our collective future.