As the World Celebrates Children’s day on November 20, a new UNICEF report states that racism and discrimination against children based on their nationality, ethnicity, language, religion and other grounds are rife in countries across the globe.
Systemic and institutional racism and discrimination prevent children from accessing their rights and puts them at risk of a lifetime of deprivation, according to the report Rights denied: The impact of discrimination on children that came out ahead of the World Children’s Day.
In the report, the UNICEF shows the extent to which racism and discrimination impact children’s education, health, access to a registered birth, and to a fair and equal justice system, and highlights widespread disparities among minority and ethnic groups.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell in the foreword said; “exclusion and discrimination during childhood cause harm that can last a lifetime.”
“This hurts us all. Protecting the rights of every child – whoever they are, wherever they come from – is the surest way to build a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world for everyone,” she said.
In the report, UNICEF shows that children from marginalized ethnic, language, and religious groups in an analysis of 22 low- and middle-income countries lag far behind their peers in reading skills. On average, students aged 7-14 from the most advantaged group are more than twice as likely to have foundational reading skills than those from the least advantaged group.
“An analysis of data on the level of children registered at birth – a prerequisite for access to basic rights – found significant disparities among children of different religious and ethnic groups. For example, in Lao PDR, 59 per cent of children under 5 in the minority Mon-Khmer ethnic group have their births registered, compared to 80 per cent among the Lao-Tai ethnic group,” the report said.
“Discrimination and exclusion deepen intergenerational deprivation and poverty, and result in poorer health, nutrition, and learning outcomes for children, higher likelihood of incarceration, higher rates of pregnancy among adolescent girls, and lower employment rates and earnings in adulthood,” the UNICEF said.
Noting that COVID-19 exposed deep injustices and discrimination across the world, and the impacts of climate change and conflict continuing to reveal inequities in many countries, the report highlights how discrimination and exclusion have long persisted for millions of children from ethnic and minority groups, including access to immunization, water and sanitation services, and a fair justice system. For example, in disciplinary policies in the United States, Black children are almost four times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than white children, and more than twice as likely to face school-related arrests, the report notes.
The report also highlights how children and young people are feeling the burden of discrimination in their everyday lives. A new U-Report poll generating more than 407,000 responses found that almost two thirds feel discrimination is common in their environments, while almost half feel discrimination had impacted their lives or that of someone they know in a significant manner.
Many of the barriers children face in accessing services, resources and equal opportunities are not simply due to accidents of fate or a lack of resources. They are the result of laws, policies and social practices that leave particular groups of children further behind. Children are dependent on adults to voice their complaints and have little recourse to independently challenge discrimination.
UNICEF is calling on partners and supporters to speak out for the equity and inclusion for every child, based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“On World Children’s Day and every day, every child has the right to be included, to be protected, and to have an equal chance to reach their full potential,” said Russell. “All of us have the power to fight discrimination against children – in our countries, our communities, our schools, our homes, and our own hearts. We need to use that power.”
All children everywhere have the right to a full childhood with dignity, respect and worth. The right to a childhood free from discrimination and exclusion is crucial to child well-being and accessing the services needed to survive and thrive.
This report includes case studies on how children are combating discrimination, data on disparities for a range of critical services including education, birth registration, water and sanitation and immunization, evidence on how discrimination affects children, and results of a U-Report on discrimination with responses from over 400,000 young people.