While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” – Angela Schwindt
“There is no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.” – Walt Streightiff
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as any human being under the age of eighteen, unless the age of majority is attained earlier under national legislation. Children’s Day is a day recognized to celebrate children. It is celebrated on various calendar dates in different countries and by the UN.
Origins of Children’s Day
The tradition of Children’s Day dates back to June 1856 when the Reverend Dr. Charles Leonard, pastor of the Universalist Church of the Redeemer in Chelsea, Massachusetts, USA, held a special service focused on children. His sermon was so popular that it gave rise to an annual tradition. Leonard named the day Rose Day, though it was later named Flower Sunday, and then Children’s Day.
The first country to declare Children’s Day as a national holiday was Turkey, which did so on 23 April 1929.
UN Gets in On the Act
The United Nations (UN) formally inaugurated Children’s Day as an international event in October 1954, naming it Universal Children’s Day. The day’s stated aim is to encourage “worldwide fraternity and understanding between children” and invite pre-teens to think about their place in the world and consider what issues they think are important and how society might seek to address them.
After 1959, November 20th was chosen as Universal Children’s Day as it marked the anniversary day when the Declaration of the Child Rights was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly. In 1989 the Convention on the Rights of the Child was also signed on the same date.
International Children’s Day, which is not the same as Universal Children’s Day, is celebrated annually on June 1. Although widely celebrated, not all countries recognize June 1 as Children’s Day.
Children’s Day in India
After the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, in 1964, it was unanimously decided to celebrate his birthday, 14 November, as Bal Diwas or Children’s Day in India. Prior to Pandit Nehru’s death, India celebrated Children’s Day on 20 November, the Universal Children’s Day. Nehru, who was fondly called Chacha Nehru (Uncle Nehru) or Chachaji (Uncle), and known for his love of children, emphasized the importance of giving love and affection to children. He said, “The children of today will make the India of tomorrow. The way we bring them up will determine the future of the country”.
Celebration of Children’s Day
On this day, many schools organize fun activities for students such as games, debate competitions, music and dance performances, and museum or zoo visits etc. Many government departments, corporate institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) announce various schemes and organize a variety of competitions and events for the children. Many non-profit organizations collaborate with the government to educate the society on the actual significance of this day. Engaging methods like street theatre, graffiti and murals are planned in advance to act as a medium to reach a wider audience.
Declaration of the Rights of Children
Every child has the fundamental right to proper health, elementary education, family life, play and recreation, an adequate standard of living and to be protected from any kind of abuse and harm.
In 1925, the World Conference for the Well-being of Children recognized that “mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give” and adopted the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child:
- The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually;
- The child that is hungry must be fed; the child that is sick must be nursed; the child that is backward must be helped; the delinquent child must be reclaimed; and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored;
- The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress;
- The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation;
- The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of fellow men.
In 1959, the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which was based on the structure and contents of the Geneva Declaration, and reaffirmed that “mankind owes to the child the best it has to give.” This new declaration set forth 10 principles to safeguard children before as well as after birth and laid the groundwork for the adoption of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989, the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history.
A few of the organizations who work with children’s rights in India are Plan India, CRY (Child Rights and You), Save the Children, Bal Vikas Dhara-New Delhi, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, CHORD-Hyderabad.
However, despite these celebrations of Children’s Day across the world, the status of children leaves much to be desired. Millions of children throughout the world live in extreme poverty. Their families try to survive on less than $1.25 a day. The children are often deprived of medicine, education and shelter. Many live without access to clean water. They are unprotected and oppressed, starved of affection and opportunity and trapped in a cycle of disadvantage passed from one generation to another, if they are able to survive past childhood.
For many children born into poverty their first day of life is also their last. Of those who survive their first day, many will die within the month. And even more will die before the age of five. However, a cause of cheer is that since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted, the global mortality rate for children under five years old has been cut in half.By Prof. G. Surender ReddyNational Convener, 3i STEM Forum Corporate Advisor, Butterfly Fields