World Youth Day

UNICEF has launched an invitation on the occasion of the World Youth Day that occurs every year on 20 November. A request addressed to all to make it clear to governments all over the world what are the real needs of children. “Putting Children in Their Agenda” is the title of the invitation.

For years, Kiwanis International has made enormous efforts (just think that for the ONE K day that this year was October 27th, initiatives have been carried out for a total of one million hours and for an estimated value of 17 million US dollars! ).
Unfortunately, this is not enough: children’s problems are often discussed, but almost always the reported data are followed with worrying indifference. Perhaps because it is thought that these are distant phenomena or do not concern Italy or Europe. But it is not like that.

Despite almost all the countries that signed the New York Convention on the Rights of the Child (more than 190) and ratified it (the only exception are the United States of America), the real situation of childhood continues to arouse major concerns, Not only in Africa or Asia or in the less developed regions of South America. Child problems such as those included in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, signed by all the countries of the world are far from having achieved the expected results.

Such as eliminate poverty. Despite the attempt to hide the problem (raising the absolute poverty line from 1.5 dollars a day to 1.9), the measures taken to reduce poverty did not produce the desired results. Poverty is still widespread. Also in Europe and in Italy. In many countries of the EU, including Italy (and Greece, Spain, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Estonia), the situation worsens. To confirm it is the Eurostat report: in Italy poors are increasing (in 2008 they were 15.082 million, in 2017 they became 17.407 million or 28.9% of the national population). A problem that affects children in the first place: in Italy 1.2 million children and adolescents are in absolute poverty. Quite often they live in poorly lit streets full of dirt, do not breathe clean air and are subject to a high risk of crime, a figure that rises to 17.5% in the large urban areas of the south and the islands.

This poverty is often associated with another, equally serious: educational poverty. Basic education and education are also part of the SDGs. It is true that the scourge of primary education is slowly being reduced in many countries of Africa and Asia, but the quality of this education often is not enough and many children remain cut off from any kind of schooling since birth (several Kiwanis clubs are trying to fill this gap by helping centers in Africa – in Uganda for example – to educate less fortunate children). Once again, these are problems that closely affect Italy and Europe: in the old continent, many children are denied the opportunity to build a future. According to Tullio De Mauro, linguist and former minister of public education, less than a third of the Italian population would have the levels of understanding of writing and calculation needed to orientate themselves in the life of a modern society . Referring to the survey is called PIAAC, Program for International Assessment of Adult Compete which reports literacy levels in five groups for dozens of countries in the world, in Italy 70% of the population is below the two lowest levels. Sometimes, even within the same city, there are significant differences in the acquisition of school skills by minors. In Naples, for example, 15-52 year-olds without secondary school diploma are 2% to Vomero but if you move to Scampia this percentage becomes 20%. Even in the capital, in the neighborhoods where the most affluent families reside, north of Rome, graduates (more than 42%) are 4 times more than those living in the suburbs or in the eastern areas of the city (where they are less than 10% ). The same happens in Milan, where in Pagano and Magenta-San Vittore (51.2%) the graduates are 7 times those of Quarto Oggiaro (7.6%). And in Palermo (2.3% in Malaspina-Palagonia and 23% in Palazzo Reale-Monte di Pietà).

Poverty and low levels of education are often strongly linked: in Italy (as in the rest of the world), it is difficult to demand a high cultural level when there is “hunger”. Yet even “eliminating hunger in the world”, another of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals reveals impressive numbers: according to Save the Children, every day in the world, there are 7,000 children under the age of five who die from malnutrition. FIVE EVERY MINUTE! Girls and children living in countries affected by famines and droughts, afflicted by extreme poverty or torn by war and conflict, and who do not receive adequate food, clean water and medical care.

On the other hand, the opposite phenomenon are getting worse: obesity. Even in the richest countries on the planet (as in the USA and in Europe). Kiwanis International has been repeating it for years: the situation is getting worse. Even in Italy, where in some regions the percentages are reaching alarming levels. According to a survey promoted by the Ministry of Health, in some sample cities in Lombardy, Campania, Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Puglia and Calabria, over 23% of children are overweight and over 13% are obese. Impressive data highlighting wrong and too sedentary lifestyles, the spread among children of incorrect eating habits. Childhood obesity has now become a global problem and a non-negligible risk factor for several chronic diseases, with serious consequences in adulthood. Suffice it to say that over the past 40 years the number of obese school children has more than increased tenfold from 11 million to 124 million. If they are added to the over 216 million overweight but not (yet) obese children, it is understood that this is a problem that all countries should take seriously.

According to UNICEF, more than 150 million children worldwide are forced to perform jobs that endanger their mental and physical health and condemn them to a life without leisure or education. Of these 76 million are very young: they are between 5 and 11 years old. And 73 million of them are forced to perform dangerous jobs, such as in mines or carrying excessive weights (19 million of them aged 12 or under). If it is true that the phenomenon of child labor is concentrated above all in the poorest areas of the planet, also in this case there are also cases of child laborers even in many countries that are not so underdeveloped.

In many African countries or in some “peace” wars in the Middle East, children are used as human shields, other are forced to take up arms and fight in tribal clashes that they do not understand and do not know. Clashes that cause millions of deaths and an even greater number of migrants fleeing their territory to move elsewhere. Sometimes without crossing national borders; other times over the border.


These are just some of the many facets concerning the lives of children. Aspects of which for years, individually (individual clubs or divisions) or synergistically (at national or international level) Kiwanis International deals with and for which it has often managed to find concrete answers. Problems, however, that to be completely resolved would require the help of everyone and the sharing of certain priorities.

Unfortunately, many aspects related to childhood talk too little and often the governments, after the celebrations for the World Youth Day, continue to pretend not to see what is the situation of millions of children before their eyes. Problems that do not occur only one day on November 20th. And who need the attention of everyone every day of the year. This is why it is important to “put children’s problems on their own agenda”.

C. Alessandro Mauceri
C. Alessandro Mauceri
Since thirty years C.Alessandro Mauceri deals, writes and talks about issues related to the environment and a sustainable development, as well as internationalization. He is author of several books, including Water War and Finta Democracy. His research and papers were reported in several newspapers, in Italy and abroad.Posts

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