Nations are staging special events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force on November 20, 1989. It is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty. Every country in the world, with the exception of the United States and Somalia, has ratified it. In pre-Convention days, most of the world thought children should be seen and not heard. Now, 20 years later, some children are making their voices heard. But most remain silent and their human rights continue to be violated.
"I want to have my rights and I want to defend those who don't have a voice to say no," says 12 year old Tracy from Lebanon. She is one of 23 children chosen from 16 countries to come to Geneva to participate in workshops, debates and other events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention. Tracy is an active member of the Children's Council of World Vision in Lebanon and understands the problems children face in her country.
"One of these problems is children's physical abuse. In schools," she says, "they hit children, in their houses. And, the other is the sexual abuse."
Sixteen-year old Fredrica says children's rights in her country, Sierra Leone, are being violated. Their situation is going from bad to worse every day.
"So many things are happening to us that is against the rights and when the Convention on the Rights of the Child puts laws, most of these laws have been violated every day," she says. "So, many violence, cases of child trafficking… Every day things are going bad, bad, bad and bad. But, we just hope that things get better for all the children living in Sierra Leone and also in Africa."
Cara is 17 and part of Planned Canada's Youth Action Council. It's an organization that works with children, families and communities to improve conditions in the developing world. Cara says she feels a special responsibility to speak out on behalf of disadvantaged children because she comes from a country that has a stable government, and a good educational and health system.
"I feel that it is my responsibility because I have the resources to help other children around the world who don't have a voice and who don't have their rights respected to really speak up for them and try to help them in any way I can."
Cara notes many adults don't know children have rights. She feels duty bound to inform them, as well as the children, of their rights.
"Because the children need to know how to protect themselves, how to stick up for themselves and fight for what is right. And, the adults need to know," she says. "It's just as important for them to know so that we gain their support. Because us alone, we are limited to do so much, but us together, if we work together to fight for child rights, then we can really have success."
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors, super-model, Claudia Schiffer, actor, Ewen McGregor and Hollywood actress, Mia Farrow have been advocating for the rights of children for years. They are trying to make life better for them. So is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
"With the adoption of the Convention by the General Assembly two-decades ago," she says, "the international community unanimously recognized for the first time in history that children, both girls and boys alike, are not simply the property of their parents or of their care givers, but individual rights-holders."
Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Saad Houry, calls the Convention a milestone, but notes the reality does not always live up to the document's vision of a world made safe for all children. He says millions of children remain excluded from that dream.
"Despite remarkable economic growth in scores of countries over the past 20 years, shocking disparities are also growing, with the poorest children left further behind."
Much remains to be done to ensure children's rights are being respected. Nevertheless, young people all over the world clutch onto their dreams and believe they can turn them into reality.
Despite the success of the Convention in raising awareness of children's rights worldwide, one of the largest and most influential countries in the world has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States has not approved the Convention because it fears government interference in family life and the possible loss of its sovereign rights.
Also, many of the countries that have ratified the Convention have not taken any measures to implement the laws.
Supression of children's rights and the abuse of children remain major worldwide problems.