This Universal Children’s Day (20th November), I am reminded of a group of young girls whom I met in a “char” (remote rural area) in Lalmonirhat, Bangladesh several years ago. These girls faced so many challenges going to school. Walking for two hours each way -to and from school, was their usual practice. During the rainy season, they had to take a boat to attend classes. Still they did not want to miss the opportunity of an education. I learnt that most of their classmates had already dropped out of school due to child marriage, and that the remaining girls knew their parents may also arrange marriages for them at any time. That was their biggest anxiety. Some of the girls were involved in a children’s club, and were passionate about creating awareness against child marriage in the community. It was incredibly inspiring to see these girls fighting for an education, against the odds.

Sadly, for millions of children around the world, going to school can be almost impossible. School should be a place where children feel safe and learn to realize their full potential. But unfortunately many children are not safe in and around school.  Around 500 attacks on schools were documented in DRC, South Sudan and Yemen in 2017. Nearly 720 million school-aged children live in countries where physical and humiliating punishment at school is not fully prohibited and since 2000, almost 35,000 children have died in schools due to disasters. These are just few examples of the challenges children face.

Violence, disasters, conflict and everyday hazards affect children’s well-being and threaten their rights to survival, protection and education.  But what are we doing about it?  Drawing from decades of experience, learning and research from across the globe, we have developed the Safe Schools programme as an all-hazards approach to help keep all girls and boys of school age safe and protected in and around school.

Safe Schools develops and strengthens polices and systems to ensure a school is safe. It protects children through school safety management and ensures school facilities meet safety standards. Safe Schools also gives teachers and children the knowledge and skills they need to help stay safe, and engages with parents and community to make sure that children are protected from violence and hazards in all settings.

On Universal Children’s Day, I feel profoundly inspired to remember our founder Eglantyne Jebb for her leadership, vision, courage, and commitment for children’s rights. In 1924, she presented a Declaration of the Rights of the Child to leaders from around the world, which explained what she believed were the human rights of every child. This later became the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

Universal Children’s Day is an important day in the history of children’s rights - as on this day the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (in 1959 and 1989 respectively). The convention sets out children’s rights such as the rights to be protected from violence and discrimination and the rights to life, health and education. Save the Children is committed to achieving these rights for children – that every child has the right to learn, survive and be protected.

As we mark Universal Children’s Day Save the Children is working to keep children safe in and around school throughout the world. But more needs to be done. We need to continue our advocacy on scaling up proven interventions, generating social norm change toward non-violence and inclusion, strengthening systems and workforces, influencing budgetary, policy and legislative change, and holding perpetrators of violence to account. Hopefully all these will contribute to ensure uninterrupted and equitable access to education for children.

As a child rights organization, Save the Children is committed to listening to children in a meaningful way in everything we do. Child participation is at the core of our Safe Schools programming and advocacy. Children are engaged in identifying the hazards that affect them and in the development of solutions. 

Thinking about those young girls in Bangladesh and other children around the world, who are defying barriers to attend school, gives me hope for the future. It is our collective responsibility to contribute to building a world where every child is in school, safe from harm and can fulfil their potential.

The time for action is NOW! Will you join the movement?