By Stephanie Parker
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 4 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) called on all people to elevate children's voices during 2014, as the agency commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
"This is a really important moment in time," Deputy Director of Programs Division at UNICEF, Christian Salazar, said about the 25th anniversary of the CRC in a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua.
This is the first time in history that the rights of children have been qualified worldwide, the senior official said. " Basically all states in the world have committed to (it)."
The CRC was ratified in 1989. In its 25th year, there are 193 states that have backed the agreement. To evaluate each nation's progress, the CRC established the 18-member UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that monitors the implementation of the convention's terms.
According to Salazar, each country is evaluated on an independent basis because of varying cultural and political composition.
So, "(countries ratify) and report every five years ... on their progress and about their challenges and then the committee issues recommendations," he said.
Thus, the convention is the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history, according to the official UNICEF website.
The site also added that the convention has changed the way children are viewed and treated.
THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
In the past 25 years, the system in place has helped the world witness "magnificent improvements" in the living conditions of children. Salazar said "the under-five mortality rate has almost halved since 1990 and malnutrition and stunting rates have been reduced by 40 percent."
Salazar stressed that the decrease in these factors are also because of international support. Aside from the convention, the agency has seen drastic progress in governments, citizens, education workers and health professionals.
Moreover, many groups have established a voice for children and advocated for their rights. "Children have rights," Salazar said.
"They have rights to a family or a family environment, or a community that cares for them and the states obligation to ensure these rights," the senior official said before turning to his direct on the ground experience.
"I was working in Vietnam around 2005 and 2006," Salazar said.
"There were discussions on the health system -- privatizing it (because) the state could not afford to give free healthcare to everyone anymore," he said.
The CRC and the Vietnamese government created a specific clause that said "all children under six years of age must have free healthcare," Salazar noted.
Thus, the CRC has brought "heightened awareness" for children. It has also emphasized that, "it is the duty of the state to ensure that children grow up well, healthy, well educated and well protected," even children engulfed in conflict situations.
THE PROTECTION OF CHILDREN IN ARMED CONFLICT
"A third result of the CRC is an increase in the protection of children in armed conflict," he said. The convention, combined with other special protocols, has laid out a concrete plan on how children need to be protected from war and from conflict, the official added.
The United Nations Security Council has taken up the messages and based on that, there have been a number of resolutions, he said.
These resolutions call for the protection of children's rights and armed conflict with direct reference to the convention, he said.
The result is "a mechanism for monitoring the .. great violations of children's rights in armed conflict," he said.
In the last 25 years, conflicts and upheavals have changed the global landscape. Now, international communities are faced with internal and external displacement because of war in countries like Syria, where the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child estimated that in the summer of 2013, over 7,000 children have been killed since the beginning of the deadly battle between the Syrian government and the fractioned opposition forces in the country.
Aside from this, Syria was in the news almost a year ago for a chemical weapons attack outside of the Syrian capital of Damascus that took the life over 300 civilians and children.
The horrific and tragic child deaths are categorized by the chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Kristen Sandberg, as a "gross violation" of the CRC.
The chairperson echoed Salazar sentiment and said "the CRC applies at all times" because "we are seeing a world right now where conflict is becoming rampant again."
"So the protection so to speak and the attention to children's rights by the highest UN body of the world, is something that we would not see without the convention on the rights of the children, " he explained.
REHABILITATION PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN IN CONFLICT
Consequently, the agency has been working towards creating a vibrant future for all children, including the ones engulfed in conflict.
Now, the child centric agency is providing a creative outlet for children through various rehabilitation programs.
For example, in the Za'atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, the agency held a three-part OneMinutesJr workshop.
At the workshop, the selected student participants learned about camera equipment and were able to express their voice through a sixty-second video project about their displacement, memories of Syria and life in the refugee camp.
The Za'atari camp is located north of the Syrian and Jordan border. The camp primarily houses refugees from Daraa, a city located in southwestern Syria.
The camp currently hosts over 85,000 people.
As a result, the camp's program is one way the CRC has made a strong and lasting impact on a vulnerable community across the world.