UNITED NATIONS – Soccer great David Beckham and actress Millie Bobby Brown were the star attractions Wednesday at the celebration of World Children’s Day, which this year coincides with the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.
“Thirty years ago, nations joined together to make a promise to the children of the world,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the gathering of diplomats, guests and young people from around the world.
“For the first time in history, the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognized that children have the same rights as adults – and additional rights because of their special status as dependents,” she said.
Mohammed hailed the advances in children’s well-being over the last three decades, such as a 60 percent decline in mortality among kids under 5 and a reduction, from 18 percent to 8 percent, in the proportion of children of primary-school age who are not attending classes.
“But our work is far from done. We have not kept our promises to all the world’s children, and many are at risk of being left behind,” she said, pointing to the more than 200 million youngsters who suffer from stunted growth and other developmental problems due to malnutrition.
Children left behind, she said, “may be recruited as child soldiers. They may be labeled as terrorists. They may be sexually abused, imprisoned, or forced to work as slaves. An estimated 10 million children are in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labor worldwide.”
Beckham, a Unicef goodwill ambassador for nearly 15 years, mentioned the clamor of the world’s young people for health care, education, peace, security and action to protect the environment.
“As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we must ask ourselves: Are we listening? As adults, are we humble enough?” the former Manchester United and England star said.
“As leaders, as public figures, as parents and, as human beings, we must all do more to protect children’s dreams,” Beckham said.
Brown, who at 15 is the youngest-ever Unicef goodwill ambassador, likewise stressed the need to listen to the world’s children.
“In world capitals – in buildings like this – adults talk about children’s rights. But today, young people don’t want to be talked about. They want to do the talking,” the Emmy-nominated “Stranger Things” actress said.
Acknowledging that she has been fortunate in her life, Brown spoke of having been bullied at school.
“Like millions of other girls around the world, I’ve also been bullied and harassed online,” she said. “It’s a terrifying feeling to look at your phone and see that the messages that people are sending you are filled with anger, hate and even threats.”
“I was lucky. With the help of my friends, family and people around me, I was able to overcome these negative feelings and take my power back. But millions of children aren’t so lucky,” Brown said.
Talking about the importance of empowering young women, she praised Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“In September, in this very building, Greta Thunberg – a 16-year-old girl – told world leaders an uncomfortable truth. She told them that the adults of the world had failed to act on climate change,” Brown said.
“Young people like her are shouting for world leaders to hear, to listen and to act,” the actress said.