20 November marks Universal Children's Day and as Malala reads her way to recovery in the UK, following the attack that shocked the world, we are reminded of the ongoing struggle in Pakistan to ensure that every child achieves the rights enshrined to them in The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was historically signed by world leaders in 1989.
In support of Malala, children are literally standing up in the UK, Pakistan and globally to make their voices heard. They don't just empathise with Malala, they want to ensure that no matter their race, gender or geographical location, all children are treated equally and fairly.
Last week, former prime minister and new UN special education envoy Gordon Brown, spoke from Pakistan about the country's potential to achieve more progress on education than any other country in the world. He acknowledged Malala's heroic battle for education, which has catalysed a global movement of millions of people to demand universal schooling for girls and boys. There is a huge opportunity for transformational change and it is inspiring to see children leading the way.
The signs are positive; a people's movement has inspired political leaders to commit to build new schools and ministers of education from every province in Pakistan have committed to guarantee that every girl and boy will have access to education. Furthermore, Pakistan will specifically target the three million girls currently out of school as part of an effort to end the discrimination and provide universal access to education, something we take for granted in the UK as the right of every child.
On health too, both Pakistan and the UK are making progress for children, and youth leadership and child participation is a key part to this success. In the UK, 18 year old Tom Daley is part of Rotary's End Polio Now campaign, keeping the issue at the top of the political agenda and inspiring others to get involved. Similarly, in Pakistan, 18 year old Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, the ambassador for polio eradication, argues passionately for children to be given the polio vaccination. As I wrote last month, UK aid is helping to end polio in Pakistan and with a new national emergency action plan and a coalition of health workers and religious leaders that have reduced polio vaccine refusal by almost half, Pakistan has seen a 60% overall reduction in polio cases this year. Just last week, Pakistan marked six months since the last case of one of the two remaining strains of wild poliovirus.
The near total eradication of polio gives the UK, Pakistan and the world a blueprint to eradicate other diseases. In Britain, virtually every child under five will contract rotavirus by the time they reach five, a disease which causes diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and dehydration. Currently, the virus causes 140,000 children to have diarrhoea and 14,000 children to be hospitalised every year. This led to the UK announcing, that starting next year, children will be vaccinated against rotavirus, a step experts say will halve the number of cases and reduce by 70% the number of hospital stays.
In Pakistan, diarrhoea and pneumonia are the two leading causes of child mortality, killing 126,000 every year and hospitalising many more. However, there are again signs of progress, just last month Pakistan became the first South Asian country to introduce a vaccine to protect children against pneumonia. This momentous step forward highlights that Pakistan, despite the challenges, is moving in the right direction.
On this historic day, with Malala a beacon of hope for all children who are deprived of their rights, let's ensure we listen to our children and together create a world we can all be proud of.
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