Universal Children's Day: a time to reflect

The UAE is committed to building a tolerant society. If only prospects were as good elsewhere in the region

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in the past few years, and while aid agencies are more stretched than ever given the influx of those fleeing violence and lower budgets, good Samaritans still exist in abundance. Getty Images
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Today marks Universal Children's Day, an occasion, according to the United Nations, to promote and celebrate children's rights. The aim of November 20 is to build a better world for young people.

In the UAE, the Government recognises the importance of youth. Last year, Shamma Al Mazrui was appointed Minister of Youth. More broadly, the Government has appointed a range of young ministers to serve the country and has established an Emirates Youth Council to present ideas to politicians. The existence of both bodies speaks to a greater understanding that the country's future rests in the hands of the young. So too does the country's determined commitment to build a moderate and tolerant society.

If only the prospects of children elsewhere in the region radiated with such promise. Around the Middle East, extremism, conflict and chaos have choked the tomorrows of a generation of children, with potentially calamitous consequences.

In Syria, where the humanitarian crisis deepens with every passing day, there are few words that can do justice to the injustice meted out on the young. Last month, pictures emerged of Sahar Dofdaa, a one-month-old baby who weighed less than 2kg, providing yet more horrific insight to the indirect and direct abuses perpetrated by the Al Assad regime. In Iraq, a Save the Children document published earlier this year reported on the unspeakable horrors and extreme sorrow of a group of children who had been condemned to live under ISIL in Mosul before its liberation this year. Almost half of the 545 children the organisation spoke to shared "lengthy stories of [witnessing] violent deaths of loved ones". In Yemen, it is estimated that thousands of school buildings have been destroyed by conflict. Unicef calculates that millions of children are now outside the education system.

Few people could fail to be moved by the unbearable realities of life in crisis zones. Effort, thought and action – in the form of policy and leadership – must be mobilised to help those most in need. Perhaps the greatest measure of success for UN Universal Children’s Day would be that the situation of young people globally had improved so much that we no longer need to mark November 20 on the calendar. That day cannot arrive soon enough.