Universal Children’s Day
has been observed every November 20 since 1959. It’s an internationally-recognized day to reaffirm the basic human and civil rights of children, as well as a date to promote children’s welfare.

The United Nations’ 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was the first legally binding international instrument to give children all the human rights recognized for adults. All governments that ratify it commit themselves to protect and ensure children’s rights, meaning they are not only responsible for signing on, but for being accountable for children’s welfare.

The CRC is the most ratified human rights treaty in the world, with 190 nations agreeing and signing up. Somalia and the USA are the only two countries which have not ratified the CRC.

Children are protected in the U.S. by the basic rights embodied in the Constitution, as declared by the Fourteenth Amendment. There is a clause in this amendment—the Equal Protection Clause—that applies to children born within a marriage or not, but excludes unborn children. This nuance is in limbo, as lawmakers with differing views on abortion and “fetal personhood” struggle to define personhood and when a developing fetus becomes a person.

Teaching your young children about human rights helps foster feelings of self-worth and social respect. By learning about their own rights, both as human beings and as minors, they in turn learn their responsibility towards their fellow citizens.

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Books are always a great way to introduce children to new concepts, and these titles address issues of human rights from a variety of angles. You can use them to illustrate and spark discussion on their own essential rights and responsibilities.

War and Peas by Michael Foreman. Using animal characters, Foreman talks about racial prejudice and social inequality and how this leads to a war.

The Wild Washerwomen by John Yeoman and Quentin Blake. This book is about seven washerwomen exploited by their tyrannical employer, and how they find their voices and power, and fight back.

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego. Little Leo is a “late bloomer,” and his father is very concerned about him and pressures him to grow up. His mom, on the contrary, is not concerned as she knows little Leo will learn when he´s ready.

The Frances books by Russell Hoban show how children’s problems, such as jealousy, fears or sibling rivalries, can be dealt with love and understanding.

We often associate U.N. initiatives such as Universal Children’s Day with developing nations, and assume that children in the U.S. are not subject to the same hardship and abuse as are children outside our borders. But there are countless children in the United States who need your help—they need an adult to stand up for them, advocate for them, and protect them. Here are ways you can help, close to home:

  • Foster Parenting: Foster care is a program which allows temporary or foster parents to take care of children who have been removed from their homes for a number of reasons. These children will not remain in the foster parents’ home but will eventually go back to their biological parents or maybe even be adopted.

  • Guardian ad Litem: Florida and many other states have Guardian ad Litem programs, where attorneys and non-attorney volunteers provide pro bono legal assistance to abused and neglected children, and advocate for them within the court system. For concerned adults who can’t foster or adopt, this is a great way to make a real impact in the life of children in need.

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of America matches adult volunteers with a young boy or girl in need of mentorship, guidance and secure adult companionship in his or her life. As a “Big.” you commit to spending quality time with your “Little Brother” or “Little Sister” a few times a month, and becoming a friend and role model to him or her. The organization recently launched Latino Bigs to grow the program within the Hispanic community.