If you are reading this, it is fair to assume that you had the privilege of attending school as a child. A privilege that 244 million children do not have This day.
On November 20, we celebrate World Children’s Day with the theme of equality and inclusion for all children. However, the reality is that this is not a time to celebrate, as we are seeing the first reversal in development indicators in decades. In 2021, nine out of 10 countries saw a drop in their indicators. When declines occur, it is always the children who are affected first, the most affected and for the longest.
While the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the global economic crisis have put the accelerator on this decline, it would be naive to believe that these are the only causes or that these trends can be reversed in a couple of years. Climate change has led to an alarming rise in deaths, while poor governance, rising conflicts and increased population displacement have been paving the way for a bleak future for today’s children.
The effects on children are immediate, and when a domino falls, a rapid cascade follows. Progress to end child labor has stalled, reversing a previous downward trend that saw 94 million children drop out of the labor force between 2000 and 2016.
By the end of this year, an estimated 8.9 million more children will be forced to work, adding to more than 160 million more.
School attendance was increasing until recently, but this trend has now also been reversed with at least 10 million more children out of school in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. In Afghanistan alone, an additional 1.2 million girls have been denied access to secondary education.
Almost 28 percent of children ages 5 to 11 who work and 35 percent of children ages 12 to 14 in the labor force do not attend school. Children who do not attend school are 3.4 times more likely to marry than their peers.
A staggering 345 million people now experience acute hunger, and 50 million girls, boys and their families in 45 countries were on the brink of starvation in 2021, 1.5 times more than in 2019.
While we strive to build sustainability, the current context means that in many countries we are just trying to maintain the gains of the last decade. For nations like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen, even this is not possible. In these and many other countries, children are simply trying to survive, and now the odds are firmly against them.
All of these stats can be overwhelming, and yet there is a name behind each stat.
Arthur, 11, Mushegh, 8, and Rima, 10, know more about conflict and displacement than any child should. They were first displaced in October 2020 from their home in Nagorno-Karabakh and found refuge on the Armenian border with Azerbaijan. His father, a teacher, lost his job and now he has been learning to raise sheep.
The children lost their friends, their security, their home and their peace of mind. Then, in September of this year, a shelling destroyed several houses in his village. As a result, schools closed and thousands of children had to be evacuated, many re-traumatized by the fighting.
The people of the village were no longer able to graze their sheep and their livelihoods were severely affected. Children and their parents no longer feel safe and live in constant fear of another bombing.
With more children at risk of violence and famine than at any time in the last 10 years, it’s hard to know where to start.
However, if we are able to break one link in this catastrophic chain of events, a child’s life can be dramatically altered for the better. We need to talk about the unacceptable burden that children are bearing in these global crises.
We must point to the fact that spending on preventing violence against children is at its lowest level since reporting began with just 64 cents per child spent on development aid oversees.
We need to recommit to maintaining and then improving child welfare everywhere, so that we can prevent children like Arthur, Mushegh and Rima from falling into the cycle of child labour, loss of education, child marriage and starvation.
Today, on World Children’s Day, don’t assume that you have the ability to read this article or decide what to eat for lunch or make a host of other choices that hundreds of millions of children will never be able to do. Rather, make it your responsibility to ensure that each child has a future in which she not only strives to survive, but in which she can thrive.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.