Children of workers living in a slum play around their waterlogged dwelling after heavy rains in Bangalore on Sept. 7. (Photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP)
It came as a surprise to me to learn that there’s not just one celebration of Children’s Day, but three.
Most Indians celebrate Children’s Day (Bal Diwas) on Pandit Nehru’s birthday, Nov. 14. Nehru, as independent India’s first Prime Minister, was fond of children, believing them to be the future of the country. And Indian children reciprocated his affection, calling him Chacha (uncle) Nehru.
But even before Nehru, International Children’s Day was kept on June 1, largely by the Communist World and those under its influence.
In 1950, the Geneva World Conference on Children (working with the World Health Organization) expressed its concern about the health of children and the need to protect them against disease and fixed June 1 as the date to remember children the world over.
And once again, the UN General Assembly in 1959, voted to keep November 20 as World Children’s Day and proclaimed the Rights of the Child. These may be listed as follows:
Nov. 20, World Children’s Day is UNICEF’s annual day of action on behalf of children, by those adults responsible for them, viz. parents and teachers. Children’s Day is not so much about putting up skits and competitions on the beauties of childhood, as about making childhood a safe and truly productive time for all young people, and giving them a happy and healthy future.
Sadly, for most of the world’s children, childhood is neither safe nor happy.
So Pope Francis’s prayer intention for November is realistic, when he prays, “for all children who suffer, for those who are homeless, orphans or the victims of war. That they may have access to education and experience family affection.”
We know that in many countries of the affluent West, children are just not wanted. They have become too expensive to rear, and are too troublesome to keep. Rather, people prefer pets instead.
Indeed many married couples choose to be childless rather than bring children into a world without hope -- where war, persecution, and industrial pollution have queered the future for everyone.
We know that in many countries of the deprived South, children are sexually trafficked, are put to dangerous work in mines and quarries, and remain under-nourished and uneducated. And it is much worse if it is a girl child, much worse.
But the young are not leaving it just to their elders, most of whom have failed them. The young realize that if the world is in a mess today, it is because of the violence and the corruption of their seniors.
Listen to Malala Yousufzai, who braved death at the hands of the Taliban, to champion the cause of education for the girls in her country. She famously said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” Malala has since become an inspiration to us all.
Listen to Greta Thunberg, climate activist: “We live in a strange world where children must sacrifice their own education in order to protest against the destruction of their future.”
Thunberg is talking about the most serious problem of our age -- climate change and global warming. Her concern is about the young and their future: “Where the people who have contributed the least to this crisis, are the ones who are going to be affected the most.”
From climate change, education, and mental health, to ending racism and discrimination, children and young people are raising their voices on the issues that matter to their generation and calling for adults to create a better future.
Children’s Day, therefore, is a call to adults to listen to the cries of their children, and leave a better world, a greener earth for them. If Tagore said that “the birth of a child is a sign that God has not given up on humankind,” then we adults must work to leave a better future for those who are to come.
This World Children’s Day, it’s more important than ever that the world listens to the ideas and demands of its young.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.