The recognition that children have special, specific civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights – above and beyond what is guaranteed in national laws and other international treaties – was a major breakthrough in the protection and advancement of children’s rights worldwide. The growing understanding that young people face particular challenges and forms of discrimination, led to the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history, with 194 state parties. Today, almost every nation on the planet has ratified the treaty, except for Somalia, South Sudan, and… the United States.

Despite the lack of American support and buy-in, the Convention on the Rights of the Child helped to invigorate the development of national laws to better protect children and guarantee their education. The Convention also provides a critical legal framework for local, regional and global activists to design and implement campaigns and push for the adoption of laws and regulations that have a positive impact on children’s health, education and well-being. Since its introduction in 1989, the state of the world’s children has dramatically improved: rates of enrolment in primary education, literacy rates and  early childhood mortality are all areas of significant improvement, as shown in the graphs below: 

Primary education enrolment rates worldwide: 2000-2012 (Source: UNICEF)

Youth literacy rates – 1985-2012 (Source: UNICEF)

Neonatal mortality rate by region, 1990 and 2013 (Source: UNICEF)

But while there is certainly much to celebrate on the anniversary of this important legal instrument, much remains to be done to continue to buttress the protection of children’s rights worldwide. Child marriage, child labor, the egregious, ongoing, chronic violations of the rights of children caught up in conflict are among the serious challenges still facing today’s youth. In Syria alone, for example, 2.8 million children are out of school and thousands of schools have been destroyed. “The health and the soul and the intelligence of a society are measured by how the human rights of its youngest – its smallest children – are recognized everywhere,” Anthony Lake, head of UNICEF, said yesterday during an event to commemorate the 25th anniversary. It is our job, our responsibility, our obligation under the Convention to show every child the best of humanity: cooperation, not conflict; humanity, not hatred; reconciliation, not revenge,” Mr. Lake added. “That, in the end, is the central message and meaning of the Convention: the importance of preparing today’s children to become tomorrow’s adults, tomorrow’s leaders.”

To mark the anniversary, UNICEF launched the #IMAGINE project, bringing together major global artists and UNICEF ambassadors under the aegis of a musical and technological initiative to highlight the challenges children face the world over. Below is a clip from the #IMAGINE project, in honor of the Convention’s 25th anniversary: 

Photo credit: kids enjoying a walk at Zoo Park in Hydrabad, flickr user venkataramesh kommoju

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