When many of us wake up in the morning, it is to a world capable of vast and rapid change – a world which has provided us with information through technology at our fingertips, which provides us with the luxuries of private transport, an array of food and drink choices, hospitals to keep us healthy, and schools to help us learn.
Yet despite such astonishing achievements, our world has been far too slow to change the life chances for millions of our children. In fact, I find it astonishing that we can indulge in self-praise when tens of millions of children across the world confront a bleak and dark future. Till every child enjoys the right to be a child, our goal of a better, more moral and more compassionate humanity remains elusive.
Till every child enjoys the right to be a child, our goal of a better, more moral and more compassionate humanity remains elusive.
There remain 152 million children who are victims of child labour, with almost half of them aged 5-11 years. But instead of waking up for a day of learning, they wake up for a day of hard labour – in fields, in factories, and in unimaginable conditions. More than 75 million children are in crisis situations due to emergencies and wars – all of whom have the threat of exploitation hanging over their heads, unlikely to be able to return to any kind of life of normality during their childhoods. These are all children who are denied the dreams to which every child should have the right. These are all children like your children, or the children we once were.
According to UNESCO, 264 million primary and secondary school age children are out of school. When we see the numbers of children affected by child labour, conflict, and emergencies, it is not hard to see the correlation.
On 2 February, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is holding its third Financing Conference in Dakar, co-hosted by the governments of Senegal and France. GPE has a longstanding track record of working with dozens of countries to expand and improve education, not only by providing funding, but also by ensuring that those countries are working to increase their own national education budgets for sustainability. However, GPE needs to replenish its funds to continue its work – with a target of US$2 billion per year.
Let me put this into context.
The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, of which I am honoured to be a member, estimated the cost to deliver education for every child by 2030 at US$3 trillion. Currently the world is spending US$1.2 trillion. Close to 97% of the US$3 trillion must come from domestic budgets – so it is only 3% that the world must find. This 3% – or US$90 billion – is what is spent by consumers every 18 days on gadgets and technology.
In 2000, governments pledged to deliver universal primary education for every child by 2015, stating that that "no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources."
In fact, funding for education declined in real terms between 2010-2015, meaning that there was no effort on the part of donor countries to speed up efforts to achieve the goal – quite the opposite.
Sadly, we have failed on both counts. In fact, funding for education declined in real terms between 2010-2015, meaning that there was no effort on the part of donor countries to speed up efforts to achieve the goal – quite the opposite. In 2015, the world shifted the deadline by another 15 years – but adding universal secondary education to the target, and taking away any financial commitment to achieve this.
Without immediate action, we stand to lose out on the potential of half the youth generation – that's 825 million young people. Citizens, activists, and governments have already worked hard to create the Sustainable Development Goals to give everyone the best possible chance in life, but these must not become empty promises. And the best hope we have to achieve the goals is for every young person to have their right to quality education.
As part of my work to support young people to demand their rights, I have launched the 100 Million For 100 Million Campaign. This aims to inspire and mobilize young people to stand up and act for their own rights and those of their peers, to break the cycles of illiteracy, poverty and violence so that they have the chance to fulfill their potential. Already, over a million young people have taken part in the campaign: from India to Togo, from Brazil to Sweden, young people have been hosting discussions with decision-makers and demanding more focus and funding for issues that affect them directly –violence against children, child labour, and – critically – quality education.
Without immediate action, we stand to lose out on the potential of half the youth generation – that's 825 million young people.
Financing education is one critical part of the solution – I will not pretend it is as easy as that. To give children their freedom, families must have the income they need to survive, enabling them to send their children to school and not to work. Children living in rural and agricultural areas must have safe access to schools in their local communities, and not be shut out of education due to a lack of basic infrastructure. Children who are forced to flee their homes must have the safety net of education in whatever context they find themselves – be it a new home in another country, or in a refugee camp. But ensuring there are sufficient funds for all of this is the first step.
Education truly has the power to transform lives. By equipping our young people with education, they can support their families better, they can join the modern workforce, and they can participate in their democracies. This will reduce poverty and boost national economies, and we can increase our chances of living in peaceful and sustainable communities. Think how different our world would be if we achieved just the one target of education for every child.
Last week, I was thrilled and honoured to speak at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States, at the premiere of a film about my work and the work of my team to free child labourers, and to give them the support they need to enjoy their right to childhood. At each screening, I was moved by the compassion shown by the audience – all of whom I hope will become ambassadors for the rights of every child to be free, safe, and educated.
This is a compassion I believe exists in all of us – citizens and representatives alike. And so, I call on all governments to take this first step: let us fund education, let us give all of our children their right to learn, and let us change everything together.
(The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.)