Children represent hope for the future

Children at school at the refugee camp Saint Sauveur in Bangui, Central African Republic

Children and young people are the biggest population group in almost all developing countries. For example, on average nearly one in every two people in Africa is younger than 18 years of age. These young people represent hope for the future for their countries. It is they who will chiefly determine whether urgently needed social and political change can be realised.

Yet the rights of millions of children are violated and abused in a multitude of ways. Obstacles which reduce their opportunities in life include, in particular, extreme poverty, serious diseases such as malaria and AIDS, a lack of educational opportunities and poor governance. Armed conflicts exacerbate the situation.

According to the World Bank and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, one in every 13 children in sub-Saharan Africa dies before reaching the age of five. Most of these children die as a result of easily avoidable and treatable diseases.

Around the world there are roughly 250,000 children whom armed groups have forced into service as soldiers; more than 150 million children have to work and about 64 million children of primary school age are unable to attend school. And there are around 60 million young people worldwide looking for a job. Many more are underemployed or work in the informal sector – often under unacceptable conditions that are in some ways reminiscent of slavery.

The increasing spread of HIV and AIDS means that the number of orphans and of households headed by children and young people is growing. In Africa alone, around 11 million children have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS. Many of these AIDS orphans live in extreme poverty.

Harnessing potential, creating prospects

These figures describe a vicious circle of poverty, disadvantage, lack of opportunities and frustration. There is huge potential for conflict because social exclusion can result in a greater readiness to resort to violence. The governments of all the world’s countries share some responsibility for the disastrous situation that millions of children and young people face, and are called upon to take action.

Ensuring that the rights of children and young people are upheld is a key concern of both international and German development policy. The living conditions of children and young people around the world urgently need to be improved. Young people need opportunities and options for their participation in society. Their rights to protection, to assistance so they can develop their potential and to participation in society must be fulfilled everywhere and at all times. Their potential must be harnessed so that they can help overcome poverty and foster progress in their countries.

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