PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, 20 November 2014 — All children have one thing in common: their rights. And by this I mean the right to life, health, education, protection and play. These are all fundamental children’s rights that were acknowledged for the first time on a global scale twenty-five years ago, with a document called the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In this document the world recognised that children are not possessions, but people who have human rights and agreed to protect these rights of our children, the next generation of parents and leaders.
Since its creation in 1989, the Convention has inspired changes that have improved the lives of millions of children around the world. Data shows that remarkable progress has been achieved in Cambodia on children’s rights since they were recognised in Cambodia in 1992. So this year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Convention and the amazing achievements that have been made in Cambodia.
Huge progress has been made in education, child survival and HIV/AIDS. A fantastic 98% of Cambodian children are enrolled in primary school; fewer children die before their fifth birthday compared to 25 years ago; the number of people affected by HIV has dropped to 0.7 per cent; and 71% of Cambodians now have access to clean water.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Nick Sells
I am proud of Cambodia and the progress it has made. But we must do more. We must do more to keep children safe within families and away from residential care; to keep children protected from disease by making sure they eat enough nutrients and understand the importance of washing their hands; and to keep children nurtured in their early years of life to ensure they are breastfed, properly stimulated and supported in their healthy growth.
So, is Cambodia a better place for children now than it was twenty-five years ago? The answer is a resounding yes. But we have still have some way to go to ensure that ‘all rights for all children’ is a Government priority recognising the value of this investment because children deserve it and because it will contribute to the future economic growth of Cambodia. And there are too many big differences in this country, such as between rural and urban areas, for children with a disability and between wealthy and poor families.
As Cambodia is on its way to become a middle-income country, what will the next 25 years bring? The exciting thing is we now know so much more about how children develop – and in particular how their brain develops. For good brain development you need good nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, stimulation, and protection from abuse. Often all these things interlink. Poor hygiene and diseases like diarrhoea are some of the main causes of malnutrition, when the body and brain don’t grow properly because of a lack of healthy, nutritious food; we cannot eliminate children’s malnutrition without ensuring that children have access to good nutrients, as well as to toilets, and that they wash their hands with soap.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2010/Nicholas Axelrod
At the same time, we also know more than ever before about the horrendously negative impact of violence and neglect on children. A safe, loving family environment for children is vital to their development. For example the evidence shows that the brains of children growing up in institutions such as orphanages, do not develop properly. In fact parts of the brain actually die and much of this is irreversible. This is shocking and happens because children in institutions do not receive the care and love they need and are frequently exposed to violence and neglect.
The next 25 years will bring much greater awareness of the importance of adequately investing in the vital early years of life, since investment in early childhood is the foundation for a skilled population capable of promoting the development of its own country. In other words the Government needs to continue investing in nutrition, health, education and social protection so that Cambodia’s children become a skilled population who can power the economy of the future.
This anniversary reminds us of the opportunity and honour we have to serve the children and women of Cambodia to fulfill their rights. The vision of the Convention can only be achieved if all children’s rights are realised, including the most disadvantaged. We must leave no child behind.