Celebrating Children’s Day : Towards a better future for children | Sunday Observer

Celebrating Children’s Day : Towards a better future for children

Around three decades ago, a famous film star was being interviewed live on television in the USA. At one point, the interviewer asked the film star whether he knew anything about children. The reply came back instantly: “Yes, I have been a child”.

Indeed, we go through different phases of life, but nothing can beat the carefree days of childhood. We carry and treasure, the sweet memories of childhood as long as we live.

You are lucky, because as children, you are living it. Remember, you will not get a second chance at childhood, so make the most of it. And tomorrow, we celebrate International Children’s Day. It is a celebration of children and childhood. And fittingly, we also celebrate the International Elders' Day today. It is really two sides of the same coin – all adults have been children once and today’s children will be tomorrow’s adults and elders.

Ours is a “young” world. There are nearly two billion children in the world, out of seven billion. In Sri Lanka, there are around 4.5 million children of school-going age. Every child has a right to a safe, healthy, peaceful childhood and to develop to their full potential. But remember that not all children around the world are as fortunate as you are. In Sri Lanka, education is free and all children must go to school but there are many countries where many children cannot afford to go to school due to poverty.

Millions of children in many countries die before they reach five years due to various deadly diseases. Malnutrition is a problem in many countries. Again, we are lucky thanks to an islandwide immunization programme and free healthcare.

Millions of girls and boys are also living in war zones. They are going hungry, or without the medicine they need. They are separated from their parents. They are displaced and living in refugee camps far from home -- like some children in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

Some groups use children as soldiers, which denies them access to education and parental care. We too had a war, which is now over. No children have become victims of war in Sri Lanka since 2009.

Slavery, child labour and physical abuse are also among the problems faced by children. Moreover, around 150 million school children aged 13-15 worldwide are the victims of bullying and violence from their friends. This can have a negative impact on their education. Globally, there is a campaign to improve the school environment for students. Did you know that nearly half the world’s schools lack clean drinking water, toilets and handwashing facilities ?

Almost 900 million children have to face a lack of basic hygiene facilities during their education, putting their health at risk and meaning some have to miss school. World leaders have pledged to provide safe water and hygiene facilities for all and ensure every child gets a comprehensive education by 2030 under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Sri Lanka has made great strides in this regard, but some rural schools need better sanitation facilities. There are more dangers facing children. Almost 300 million children live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution – six or more times higher than international guidelines. Pollutants can harm children’s developing lungs.

The future of the world’s children depends on how the world addresses the problems faced by children today. If countries spend even one percent of the total amount spent on wars and weapons on improving education and other facilities for children, the world will be a much better place.