This month with Children’s Day being celebrated many of us take the time to think back on our own childhood. Our school years were often filled with fun, laughter and memorable experiences that helped us to shape the adults we’ve become. But, there are so many children out there whose childhoods are far less positive. They either have no family or have to live away from their family owing to abandonment, poverty, chronic illnesses, trafficking or natural disasters that forced separation. These children stay in institutional care or worse, out on the streets, with their dark present often ruining their potential for a bright future.
Every child deserves to grow up in a family where they can develop a sense of belonging, love, safety, and empathy. In fact, this was officially acknowledged on a global level three decades ago, when leaders from all over the world committed to securing the childhood of every child with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). This convention set out 12 broad rights to safeguard the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural wellbeing of children, including the right to grow up in a family. While this is how the scenario ideally should be, there are approximately 8 million children across the world living away from their families in institutional care, with even more remaining unaccounted for. This is a statistic that needs to change.
A family holds immense importance in a child’s life, providing the very foundation for love, support, and values. Such an environment is necessary for a child’s physical, mental, intellectual, emotional, and social development. Young minds tend to thrive when they are brought up with active familial support. Their first relationships with parents and immediate family help inculcate a sense of trust and belonging. A family does not just cater to materialistic needs like food, clothing, and shelter, but provides security, love, and attachment that cannot be replaced by any other form of care. While there are numerous reasons more, all of this indicates how important a family is for the overall development of a child, and one can never stress enough on how this should be a right for every child.
Even though institutional care is touted as a model alternative to family care, the standards and the quality of life can be inconsistent across these establishments. Also, children growing up outside of community and family in an institution are often unprepared for leading an independent life in their adulthood, further resulting in a vicious cycle of crimes, homelessness, abuse, neglect, and harm in general for them and their future families. This indicates a persisting need for strengthening the family care system for orphaned and vulnerable children living in institutional care.
Organizations across the globe have begun actively involving themselves in addressing these issues by focusing on transitioning children from institutional care into family care while simultaneously improving the standards of living in institutions. They work extensively towards empowering institutionalized children by reuniting them with their families or extended kin, or finding a suitable family for them. Moreover, they often collaborate with childcare institutions, social work societies and others to raise awareness about and explore more familial opportunities for children. Along with this, these organizations also work to create systemic change by training government and community-level caregivers to identify at-risk children, support vulnerable families, and prevent children from entering orphanages.
While significant developments have been made in enabling and empowering children, there still remains a long way to scale for a complete transition from institutional care to familial care. To truly bring the vision of providing every child with a safe and loving family, there needs to be a proactive ecosystem of government bodies, communities, institutions, and all other stakeholders working together to ensure the same. Every child deserves a childhood—so as we celebrate children’s rights this month, let us vow to become an enabler in this process of providing the utmost love, care, security, attention, and belonging for each child.
By Miracle Foundation India.