60 years ago today, on the fifth Universal Children’s Day in 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. 30 years later, on 20 November 1989, it adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It is easy to forget how ground-breaking this convention was and is. It declared for the first time that children are not simply adults in training, or the property of their parents, but human beings with the same inalienable rights. It became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.
The Convention says that children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish, and that they must do so with dignity. This is intrinsic to all that Ibba Girls’ Boarding School aims to do. I was struck on a visit to the school last year by an off-the-cuff remark by one of the schools’ matrons that “this is a place where girls are allowed to be children”. Far too many girls in South Sudan are thrust too soon into positions of domestic responsibility or even into marriage and motherhood. If we deny South Sudanese girls equal access to quality education in a safe and nurturing environment we will not enable them or their nation to develop and flourish with dignity. This is true in much of sub-Saharan Africa, but South Sudan has the world’s worst indicators for education, literacy and healthcare for girls and women.
Ibba Girls’ Boarding School is sometimes criticised for providing more than the bare minimum, in a country in which even the bare minimum is itself an unavailable or unaffordable luxury. But the Convention on the Rights of the Child whose 30th anniversary we celebrate today reminds us that we do not aspire to the bare minimum. Every time children suffer a violation of their rights, every time children are denied adequate healthcare, nutrition, education or protection from violence, every time children are forced to leave school, get married, fight in wars or take on dangerous work in an attempt to make ends meet, the Convention is being contravened and we have failed as an international community to abide by our commitments.
On this 65th Universal Children’s Day, when we celebrate two key anniversaries of our global commitment to the welfare and opportunities of children, one small school in South Sudan continues to be a living embodiment of this universal ambition.
Mark Simmons, FIGS CEO, 20th November 2019