Attention to the rights of children of youth as an issue, much less a movement, is of recent vintage. This vague reality has become immensely clear to me as I have learned about the Orphan Train Riders and about how their treatment, which seems incredible today, was at the outset a well-intended effort to address the dilemma of children left on the streets of New York in the early 20th Century. The story of those children, several of whom are still living, is a stark reminder of what even one day set aside as Universal Children’s Day deserves our collective attention. We celebrate Universal Children’s Day each year on November 20.
The fundamental focus of Universal Children’s Day is the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, a name given to a series of children’s rights proclamations that date back to the 1923 adoption of the International Save the Children Union, endorsed in 1024 as the World Child Welfare Charter. This nascent document and the supporting organizations mophed in time into the United Nations where work with children, particularly children who were victims of war, led to adoption of the World Child Welfare Charter.
On November 20, 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child that specified ten principles. Universal Children’s Day is set for November 20 to recognize that significant date and the basic unalienable rights to which every child is entitled as a human being. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child passed by the UN General Assembly affirms and further explicates the rights.
A quick read of the rights is a reminder that our challenge is formidable – not only on the world stage but in our own nation. UNICEF spearheads the recognition of Universal Children’s Day – and the resources are abundant from UNICEF and a host of advocacy organizations. The Human Rights Education Association offers a very helpful listing of resources related to University Children’s Day which includes materials appropriate for children’s own understanding of their rights.