It is a sad truth that too many children in this world are alone.
Some are abandoned by their parents, some are rejected by their communities, some are forsaken by the state. Some are shut out from a family home; others are shut in and denied their rights to education, friendship, or the simple joys of care-free childhood. The parents of some may have died. Others may have living parents who are simply unable to care for them, so they become neglected, isolated, alone.
We as humans instinctively and morally know this is wrong. Indeed, somehow we just know that no child should grow up alone.
But it’s more than just a feeling. It’s a child’s right not to grow up alone.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says so. We mark the adoption of that convention every year on this day – Universal Children’s Day – the anniversary of its adoption by the United Nations on 20 November 1989.
The convention says, amongst many other important things, that:
Children have a right to live with a family that cares for them.
If they live in a different country than their parents do, they have a right to be together.
They have a right to choose their own friends.
They have a right to give their opinion, and for adults to listen and take it seriously.
To be clear, we are not always talking literally about children who are alone. When we say that no child should grow up alone, we are really talking about children who do not have a caring family environment.
It’s not just about having people around. It’s about being listened to. It’s about having a supportive community and friends. It’s about feeling connected. Children need these things. And children who don’t have them – children who, for example, cannot answer the question “How do you know your parent loves you?” – often struggle to succeed as adults, if indeed they grow up at all. Sadly, we see it everywhere, even in the wealthiest of countries.
Why, in a world where nearly every government on earth has signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, are children still alone and lacking the loving care of a parent?
And why, when the global community set itself ambitious targets in the Sustainable Development Goals to fight poverty, ill-health and injustice, are governments not investing more to ensure children have stable, caring environments, in which they can grow up to take responsibility for themselves and contribute to their communities?
From a purely logical perspective, as long as children continue to grow up alone, we simply cannot meet the targets in the SDGs. Children who do not have a loving family environment are less likely to grow up physically and mentally healthy, less likely to receive quality education and develop skills needed for productive employment, and cannot break the cycle of poverty. Investing in care for the world’s most vulnerable simply makes sense.
And morally, it’s also just plain wrong for children to grow up alone.
SOS Children’s Villages estimates that about 220 million of the world’s 2.2 billion children either lack parental care or are at risk of losing it. It’s impossible to know exactly what the number is; the global data simply does not exist. But so long as the number is more than one, we in SOS Children’s Villages know that our job is not done: to make sure that no child grows up alone.
Siddhartha Kaul, President
Norbert Meder, CEO
We asked children: "How do you know your mom or dad deeply cares for you?"
Read more about how we work to help ensure that no child grows up alone