Kate Thick: We have no excuse to let our children down

Every child plucked to safety is a victory. But with over a billion deprived children in the world there is a lot of plucking to do

Child labour in Benin, West Africa. Afi (9) who was trafficked to work as a house slave when she was 7
Child labour in Benin, West Africa. Afi (9) who was trafficked to work as a house slave when she was 7

Sadly, the North East has the highest proportion of youth not in employment, education or training and, reading this paper last week, it seems our youngsters have low aspirations too.

I was reflecting on this while hearing on Radio 4 that 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which all UN member states except for the US and Somalia have ratified. In a report to mark the anniversary, the UN asks whether today’s children are better off than young people growing up 25 years ago. It concludes the answer was yes, but not for every child.

How can a child have aspirations without love and guidance? I know of two couples, already parents, who have decided to adopt; this is nothing less than heroic.

Some statistics on the radio took my breath away. Bear in mind while grasping these numbers that the current UK population is about 63.5 million.

It is estimated 153 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents. This number does not include the millions of abandoned children or those sold or trafficked.

Over 7 million children are in institutional care worldwide

Over 1 billion children suffer from at least one form of severe deprivation of basic needs such as water, food, and sanitation

Over 1 billion children live in countries affected by armed conflict and 22 million children are refugees due to violence or natural disaster

About 121 million children and adolescents have either never started school or have dropped out due to conflict, forced labour or discrimination because of ethnicity, gender and disability.

So every child plucked into safety is a victory but there is a lot of plucking to do.

Kevin Watkins, executive director of the Overseas Development Institute, wrote that the Convention is widely and systematically violated with near total impunity. Under its terms, governments have a responsibility to ensure that every child has access to schooling. Yet 115 million school-age children are working in the most extreme forms of child labour; child trafficking and slavery had reached epidemic proportions; and schools and children had been targeted by armed forces.

Children, the Pope argues, bring hope to society, rejuvenating and enriching all our lives. It is just a shame the same cannot always be said of parents.

The UN children’s agency, Unicef, has a new report, Hidden in Plain Sight, the largest compilation of data on the violation of children to show the extent of rape, child homicides, domestic violence and bullying in 190 countries. It reveals children were more likely to suffer from violence in the home than anywhere else, with physical discipline from parents and caregivers the most common form of abuse. What depressing stuff. If home is hell that leaves school for support and inspiration.

The Global Partnership for Education separates primary and secondary age children, estimating 63 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 were being denied their right to education; one in five adolescents are not in school, compared with one in 11 primary school-age children. The greatest barrier, they say, to education remains poverty.

The UK financial crisis has increased social and family distress, as lower-income households are hit hard, with young people suffering the most severe income losses and facing increasing poverty risk. The gap in performance between poor and better-off UK pupils has increased despite millions of pounds of government money being spent on trying to narrow the difference. The inequality between children receiving free school meals and their fellow pupils has increased for the first time since 2011.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development commented recently on the potentially harmful effects of some pro-growth policies to finance ministers from the G20 group of nations. For the UK, the OECD urges more action to improve education outcomes as our student performance is below the OECD average and is uneven across social groups. Why are we struggling to fix this.

I still believe non-binding, aspirational treaties and conventions push policy change in rich and poor countries. The UK, however turbulent our economy, is a very rich country. The problem is politics, not paucity. We have absolutely no excuse to let our children down. A quarter of a century after the inception of the Convention, it is time to deliver on its promise.

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