Universal Children’s Day: Connecting rights with research insights

Today is Universal Children’s Day, the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989.

Since then, 20th November offers an opportunity to make sure that these rights of the child, including those to life, survival and development, education, and adequate standards of living, are held at the heart of global action and development.

We mark this day by exploring our rich longitudinal perspectives from Young Lives children around poverty that speak to the call to secure and sustain children’s rights through understanding barriers to children being able to fulfil their potential (and effectively live-out the vision of the Convention).

In previous years on Universal Children’s Day we have explored how poor families manage and cope with risk which can wash away the fundamental building blocks of survival and framed understandings around children’s rights within contemporary legal and political discourse.

Today we turn our attention to another fascinating narrative explored through our research: access, usage and scope of sanitation, tying in with the rights of children to ‘clean water’ and adequate standards of living, extending the observance of yesterday (World Toilet Day).

In a world where 869 million people worldwide practise open defecation and have no toilet facility at all, we have a look at the story behind this statistic, digging into our research on sanitation to suggest how lack of appropriate sanitation and water can impact children’s lives from the very beginning and, by extension, the realisation of these rights.

The most recent snapshot of Young Lives reports that across our households in India, only half possessed sanitation facilities although access has increased considerably across our other study countries (notably from 37% to 76% in Ethiopia between 2002 and 2016, an increase most notable among the poorest households and those in rural sites).

Why does this matter? We know that changing quality and access to services such as improved water and sanitation in a child’s home or community can affect children’s nutrition and so how they grow. Across the Young Lives study we see positive trends between reduction in stunting (i.e. faltered growth) and access to improved sanitation at age one, five and eight.

Recent discussions also suggest fascinating conclusions that the effects of water and sanitation may impact beyond the scope of infection or physical growth to include children’s language performance, a critical component of cognitive development (skills learning).

So too, we have addressed the interrelated articles of the Convention and their composite determinacy on children’s lives with questions that straddle areas of education, sanitation, and health. For instance, this paper asks ‘do [Young Lives’] households’ water and sanitation choices really matter for child health?’ (In brief: usage patterns do matter in bringing the greatest benefits to children of most deprived families).

This shifts us into a territory of research for policy to impact. Not only to impact ratification of the Convention, but also to tangibly make change for the better for these children; to make, in the words of the mother of 13-year-old Teje from Ethiopia, ‘a contribution’:

“I want development for all human beings and I want everyone to have a comfortable life. I want this [Young Lives’] research to contribute to that”.

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