Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Fairness: The eight-year-old's perspective (+video)

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Fairness and justice are complex concepts to most adults, but to children, things are either fair or they're not.

Try giving any three and a half-year-old less than half a piece of cake, or make him wash his ears and ignore his sister's, and wait for the dead cert wails of protest.

In older children, the idea of fairness remains somewhat self-centred but is also charmingly egalitarian.

In short, most children accept and understand that everyone has a right to be happy, healthy, loved and bought the latest Thomas the Tank Engine remote controlled train.

As someone wrote to me yesterday, "they get it really quickly - way quicker than adults - that poverty is not just about not having stuff - it's about rights, it's about fairness. They make no judgment as to why the children are poor; they don't throw up their hands in despair".

And yet, as the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child this week, it is so easy to throw our hands up in despair at the real miserable situation so many of the world's children find themselves in.

For example, as at November 2009, almost 20 per cent of the world's children live in India.

The top issues facing millions of Indian children remain: child labour (there are some 13 million Indian children below the age of 14 working for a living); child marriage, obstacles to education (over half of all children drop out of school at primary level across the country), malnourishment, illiteracy, and death from easily preventable and treatable disease.

These deaths are thought to claim as many as two million children below the age of five each year.

And it's not just these situations that are making life for children unbearable, but also the surrounding issues of grinding poverty, alcoholism and drug use, loss of parents to sickness or warfare - the list is endless.

Obviously in New Zealand, our children do not have obstacles like child marriage and labour and warfare to deal with - unless you count the thousands who are in the middle of parental warfare. And still, too many Kiwi kids live miserable lives.

I think to some extent we have, as a society, lost the ability to see the basic unfairness of the situation for so many Kiwi children - children who did not choose where and to whom they were born and who have as much right to a happy life as anyone else.

We acknowledge and are appalled by child abuse in our midst, but seem increasingly reluctant to see our tax money go towards social services that may help matters.

We blame the parents - and certainly we should do that as well - but in the end, without incredibly well funded social services that keep close tabs on the welfare on all young children, we will never come anywhere close to our aim of ensuring all our children fulfill their potential in life.

And that is an aim of New Zealand's, or so we say.

The UN convention of the Rights of the Child is the most widely supported human rights treaty, with every nation in the world except the US and Somalia signed up (come on, Obama!) In the twenty years the Convention has been informing law around non-discrimination against children, the right to life, survival and development, and respect for the views of children, UN statistics show fewer are dying and more are going to school.

But still, 24,000 youngsters below the age of five die every day from largely preventable causes, and as many as 1.5 billion children across the globe are said to experience violence each year.

Sobering thoughts, and ones that put our local parenting struggles into some perspective.

Most of us are lucky enough to have the ability to think beyond our basic needs and into creating great futures for our children.

If we think beyond just our own families to the welfare of all children, and ask ourselves simply whether or not they are really getting a fair crack at life, we might have a better mindset with which to offer help.

On the web:

* There is a great little short film (8 minutes long) from ChildFund that asks children from around the world - including New Zealand - for their take on "children's rights".







* Is Britain breaching the Convention?

* Why the US and Somalia opted out of the Convention, and why the US might soon opt in.

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: Afghans carry balloons as a police officer frisks them at a function ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in Kabul. Photo / AP

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