World Children’s Day is a stark reminder of young Arabs’ plight

In Yemen, some 4.5 million children have been deprived of education since 2014.
Friday 22/11/2019
A Yemeni boy holds his notebooks as school children attend an open-air class under a tree near their unfinished school in the south-western village of al-Kashar in Taez, September 16. (AP)
A lot on his mind. A Yemeni boy holds his notebooks as school children attend an open-air class under a tree near their unfinished school in the south-western village of al-Kashar in Taez, September 16. (AP)

TUNIS - Global landmarks were lit up in blue November 20 to mark World Children’s Day, a UN-recognised occasion to raise awareness for and ensure children’s rights.

The Empire State Building in New York, the Acropolis of Athens, the European Parliament building in Belgium, the Shanghai Tower in China and the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, one of two mosques where 51 worshippers were killed in attacks last March, were illuminated for the occasion to highlight the hopes — and needs — of the world’s next generation.

The day also served as a stark reminder of the bleak reality for many children facing conflict and crisis around the world — from Iraq to Yemen to Syria to Libya.

In Yemen, some 4.5 million children have been deprived of education since Iran-backed Houthi militants took control of Sana’a in 2014, said Yemeni Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Ibtihaj al-Kamal.

Some two-thirds of the 3 million Yemeni children born since 2014 suffer from health problems, he said, often because of malnutrition, disease and inadequate health care.

In Syria, children are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. While hostilities have subsided in some areas of the country, more than 5 million children are estimated to need humanitarian aid, including 2.6 million internally displaced, said UNICEF Representative in Syria Fran Equiza.

As of September, the United Nations confirmed 1,792 grave violations against children. These included children being killed, injured, abducted or recruited for fighting. There were attacks on schools and health facilities.

Children have been exposed to war and violence in Libya, which has been mired in civil strife since 2011. UNICEF has repeatedly expressed concern about violations against children subject to conflict there. In western Libya, including Tripoli, where there have been high levels of violence, school has been suspended for more than 100,000 children in nine districts.

The situation for Iraqi children is so dire that UNICEF cancelled its planned celebration of World Children’s Day out of respect for those killed and wounded since protests broke out October 1.

“The violence has not been limited to the streets. UNICEF confirms there are cases where babies and children were put at risk as a result of the violence taking place close to the hospital and the school where they were present,” said Hamida Lasseko, UNICEF’s representative in Iraq.

Beyond the symbolism, this World Children’s Day, which marks 30 years since the United Nations adopted its Convention on the Rights of the Child, serves as a reminder to states of the need to renew their commitment to the UN convention and protect children’s rights.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said the day should also inspire people towards “urgent action on the issues they care about, like the climate crisis, the rise of mental illness and the lack of opportunities.”

While children’s conditions remain poor in many parts of the Arab world, there were beacons of hope.

In Jordan, the government is making strides towards protecting children’s domestic rights and encouraging wholesome parenting techniques.

During a high-level meeting organised by the National Council for Family Affairs and UNICEF, the Secretary-General of the National Council for Family Affairs Mohammed Miqdadi said Jordan had implemented a participatory approach to protect children from violence and sexual abuse.

“We must build the capacity of the cadres of the institutions that provide the service, especially for cases of violence against children,” said Miqdadi. “Additionally, we hope to mainstream the automation system in dealing with cases of domestic violence and violence against children.”

Saudi Education Minister Hamad bin Mohammed Al Shaikh spoke of the kingdom’s efforts to protect children from abuse, neglect, discrimination and exploitation on World Children’s Day. The kingdom, he said, sought to provide a safe and positive environment for children to develop their skills and abilities and to ensure their protection.

He added that his ministry had established several initiatives and programmes focused on improving children’s quality of education and opportunities.

In Tunisia, Neziha Labidi, a pioneer for women’s and children’s rights in the Arab world and Tunisian minister of Woman, Family, Childhood and the Elderly, announced the creation of a temporary shelter for vulnerable children.

Speaking at Tunis’s City of Culture on World Children’s Day, Labidi said her ministry was working to implement a national multi-sectoral strategy for early childhood, adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2018, to establish a positive parenting programme.