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In 1959 UNICEF published a Declaration of the Rights of the Child in which it was stated: “mankind owes the Child the best it has to give the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” The Declaration further specified that all children have the right to affection, love, understanding, adequate nutrition and medical care, education, full opportunity for play and recreation, a name and a nationality, special care if handicapped, be among the first to receive aid in time of disaster, learn to be useful members of society and to develop individual abilities, be brought up in a spirit of peace and universal brotherhood, and enjoy these rights regardless of race, colour, sex, religion, or national or social origin.
In 1976 the UN declared that the world should celebrate children by holding an “International Year of the Child” in 1979. It was supported in many countries, including, despite a little reluctance from the Conservative Government, the UK. Many British organisations were involved, such as the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), Barnado’s, and the British Paediatric Association (BPA). Like many other countries, Great Britain issued a set of stamps to mark the occasion. The main event of the year was a party in Hyde Park, London for disabled children attended by the Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher.
Ten years later the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, based on the 1959 Declaration, was adopted by the full General Assembly and entered into force on 2 September 1990. The Convention was ratified and accepted as a binding obligation by virtually every country in the world. Two additional protocols, on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, were adopted in 2002.
Since 1979 children have slowly but surely crept up the political agenda in the UK, pushed by organisations such as the BPA (later the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) and the NCB. The Children Act (1989) was a major step forward, and more recently a paediatrician was appointed National Clinical Director for Children (2001), a Minister of State for Children was created (2003), a Government Green Paper “Every Child Matters”, was published (2003), and a National Service Framework for children is anticipated soon which will set out standards for child health care. It has taken 25 years to get from the Year of the Child to this stage but, being an optimist, I hope that there is now a real significant change in the recognition of the crucial importance of children’s welfare and it will not be another 25 years before there is effective action.