Skip to main content

Gordon Brown: Will world hear a child's cry for justice?

By Gordon Brown
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Instantly made homeless, tens of thousands of Yazidi families have sought shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan after being chased from their homes, often at gunpoint, by ISIS. Kurdish photographer Warzer Jaff spent a week documenting the exodus of the Yazidis from their ancient homeland. This portrait shows the family of former soldier Hajji Khalaf, 28, from Sinjar. With him is daughter Alisa, 3; son Ezel, 4; wife Thawra, 24; and daughter Alifa, 6. Instantly made homeless, tens of thousands of Yazidi families have sought shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan after being chased from their homes, often at gunpoint, by ISIS. Kurdish photographer Warzer Jaff spent a week documenting the exodus of the Yazidis from their ancient homeland. This portrait shows the family of former soldier Hajji Khalaf, 28, from Sinjar. With him is daughter Alisa, 3; son Ezel, 4; wife Thawra, 24; and daughter Alifa, 6.
HIDE CAPTION
Yazidi refugees braced for life in exile
Yazidi refugees braced for life in exile
Yazidi refugees braced for life in exile
Yazidi refugees braced for life in exile
Yazidi refugees braced for life in exile
Yazidi refugees braced for life in exile
Yazidi refugees braced for life in exile
Yazidi refugees braced for life in exile
Yazidi refugees braced for life in exile
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now a U.N. envoy, says children deserve justice
  • Brown says there are 500 days left to fulfill Millennium goals and we're falling short
  • Much needs to be done to make promise of universal education meaningful, he says
  • Brown: Young people are demanding their rights and will be heard

Editor's note: Gordon Brown, former U.K. Prime Minister, is a United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Gordon Brown.

(CNN) -- Almost a century ago Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children, said that the only international language the whole world understands is the cry of a child.

Now, as we start the 500-day countdown to the deadline for the Millenium Development Goals and prepare to mark World Humanitarian Day on Tuesday, I am not so sure. Having done far too little to stop children and their schools from becoming instruments of war in Gaza, we have also been slow to respond to the plight of the Yazidi children of Iraq, utterly incapable of providing basic health and education for a million child refugees exiled from Syria and appear powerless to rescue the Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the Boko Haram terrorist group whose aim is to stop girls going to school.

All of this despite international legislation, including the 1907 Hague Regulations, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and more generally the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the conventions on children and the excellent recommendations from Graca Michel that the U.N. Security Council should pay special attention to the abuses of children's rights in conflict zones, including the misuse of schools.

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown

Now today, exactly 500 days out from December 31, 2015 -- the point at which we all promised to achieve universal education for all children, there are still 58 million children who never go to school, millions of them unable to do so because they are condemned to child labour, child marriage, child trafficking or, in the case of girls, medieval forms of discrimination.

Round the world young people are starting to see the blindingly-obvious connection between boys and girls shelled in Gaza, the schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria, the Syrian refugees without a home, millions of children denied basic rights -- including the right to education across the world -- and the rape of girls in India, the forced marriages of 9 and 10 year olds in Bangladesh, the genital mutilation of their counterparts in Mauritania and across Africa and the denial of girls' basic rights in Pakistan and elsewhere.

It all comes down to one basic truth: Almost 70 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is still an abject failure to take children's rights seriously and, as the adult world vacillates its people themselves who are now becoming the most vociferous in their anger at the violations of their rights, beginning to see their freedom fight as a civil rights struggle and leading the charge for change.

ISIS: We've taken Yazidi women, children
Christian leader: ISIS beheading children
Every tent holds a horror story
Parents outraged over missing schoolgirls

And what marks 2014 a turning point for children's emancipation is the country-by country growth of civil rights groups led by young people themselves and, spurred by contact and communication across the Internet, their coordination under umbrella organizations such as Girls Not Brides, fighting schoolgirl marriage; the Global March against Child Labour, opposing child slavery; and the World at School, championing the right to education for all boys and girls.

Young people's groups, from Bachpan Bachao Andolan, fighting child labour in India; to the Yellow Movement in Ethiopia and the Street 2 school campaign in Tanzania have yet to trend on Twitter and Facebook.

But they soon will.

Opinion: Nigeria's kidnapped girls not forgotten

Girls fighting child slavery from the Kalamari forum in Nepal and the 19 child marriage free zones in Bangladesh have yet to become a major presence on our streets. But it will happen soon. And on Monday 500 youth ambassadors representing all countries of the world will announce they will meet in New York on September 22 and, shadowing the next day's U.N. General Assembly of world leaders, they will attempt to force the rights of children onto the international agenda. They will argue hard, and they will be heard.

This is not about asking and receiving. They are demanding their rights. They will demand that children should not be weapons of war and schools should never become theaters for prosecuting conflict. They will demand the Security Council now properly police laws that ban the militarization of schools and, as called for in the Lucens guidelines, the insertion of these obligations into doctrine and military manuals.

They will demand that education should be a right across borders, with a universal obligation to offer all children education even in unstable environments -- and for the early removal of all barriers, from child labor and child marriage to sexual discrimination -- to this universal right.

Of course, what moves people to hear the anguish of the child is the plight of the most marginalized. But, sadly, it is always the weakest, the youngest and the most vulnerable -- the street child, the orphan, the trafficked girl, the isolated rural poor -- who remain neglected, forgotten and left behind. It is to reverse this injustice that we, the adult world who have done too little, must now support young people waging their own liberation struggle.

It is not too late: we must, of course, use the next 500 days not just to be more attentive to the needs of the children of the world and to keep our promises but also to offer practical support to young people as youth ambassadors, young people's representatives and new youth groups mobilize for this new struggle.

For if the enduring image from a century ago is one of helpless children waiting to be protected and even pitied, then the image remembered by the next generation will be radically different. As young people connect, communicate with each other and assert their rights, the new "cry of a child" is less likely to be the shedding of tears and pleas for charity than defiant marches on our streets and a deafening clamor from young people themselves for justice.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT