World Human Rights Day, being marked today, celebrates the values which lay the foundation for democracy.

These values – rights – characterise the modern meaning of a good system of leadership since true achievement within a country exists only when the primary goal is people’s well-being.

Once this aim is secured, rights are secured also; a democracy which runs for and by the people is built on the principle that all lives are to be cherished and, most importantly, protected.

As much as one may hope that we have reached an idyllic state where everyone is equal and free, it is a known fact that injustices are not only a common occurrence but a common lifestyle for many.

This is why December 10 of every year plays a significant role. Human rights are a reminder of humanity, of brotherhood, of the freedoms shared by all men. Human rights signify the victory of good over evil, while also helping to untie the knots of hatred and prejudice.

As a member of the Children’s Council within the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, I have chosen to focus on a subtopic within the vast area of human rights, which must be discussed more actively: children.

Children form the strong yet vulnerable group, which influences and is influenced by many aspects of our society. The word ‘vulnerable’ is not used lightly. Although children hold an unwavering strength and are a powerful entity, they are also, at times, overlooked and taken advantage of.

During these times, several issues have come under the microscope as problems emerged impacting the wellbeing of children in several social institutions.

COVID-19 has amplified the calls which have long been demanding an answer and which are now too prominent to overlook. How often are children’s voices drowned out? How often are children played and traded like objects? What happens during those 364 days when children’s rights are not put in the limelight by organisations and charities?

Children’s rights are timelessly relevant. Young people themselves are timelessly relevant, with their lively spark of energy and hope. They look forward to what needs to be done for a brighter world and possess an innocent wisdom.

How often are children played and traded like objects?- Sharon Cilia

In this way, a world as imagined through the eyes of a child is just and based purely on meritocracy. Play nicely and you will be loved; cheat, and suffer the consequences. Furthermore, they are all unique, with individual talents, potential and backgrounds.

Nevertheless, all children play a critical role and are equal and should be treated as such. No child should be left behind and no background should be abandoned when drafting policies and enacting legislation.

This is also why children’s rights are crucial: they take into account both the brilliance and vulnerability of young people. Therefore, the only way to ensure all children’s rights are respected is to consult children when making decisions, a right in itself found in Article 12 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Moreover, as this also implies, the hurdles faced by all young people must be taken into consideration, in a manner as far away from tokenism as possible.

Stamping a picture of a grinning child from a minority or marginalised group on a poster or newspaper is not enough. Including all children in a single group without proper preparation is not enough. All children must have their required resources in a safe and accepting environment. Society should be informed about the best way to accomplish these goals by asking children what they need.

Research must be organised on a micro or macro scale, depending on what is necessary, so that the well-being of children from every area in society can be tested against the strengths and weaknesses of our institutions.

We need to reach the grassroots of society to establish the true meaning of children’s rights at the heart of our communities.

In the words of President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, “to violate children’s rights is to violate human rights”, which is why society must safeguard all minors and oversee their happiness.

The Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society has focused on this investment in children by creating children’s councils focused on child participation. In fact, last month, the Children’s Hub expanded to launch a Gozitan Hub so that young people in Gozo will be able to participate from their beautiful island and get the opportunity to discuss issues that may be more relevant to their individual experiences.

The phrase “investing in the future of our society” is heard all too often, yet, what we truly need to do is invest in our present. The way forward is investing in our present.

Human rights are an investment in the present. To invest in our present is to invest in our children. Children are the past, children will be the future but, above all, children are our present. Their rights are human rights and our investment in them is their investment in us.

Sharon Cilia is a children’s rights activist and a member of the Young Persons’ Council within the Malta Foundation for the Well-being of Society.

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