The World Economic Forum at Davos marked the first major international political event of 2019. Over 4 days, world leaders engaged in discussions on governance, global economy and the volatilities that threaten the world we inhabit. A marked difference at this year’s WEF was the engagement with issues of sustainable development keeping in view drastic climate change occurrences, education and other important aspects impacting children and childhoods across the world. With Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist representing children at the global forum and demanding action against climate change, it is evident what the priorities of the world leaders ought to be. “I don’t want your hope. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.”, she implores. Let’s take a look at some of the other child rights related conversations that took place at the WEF 2019.
1. HEALTH GOALS FOR THE LAST-MILE CHILD
Despite continued efforts at increasing the standards of health-care for children across the world, there remain approximately 13.6 million children who do not get even the most basic vaccines. These children belong to the most marginalized societies of the world, left behind and forgotten. The WEF witnessed engagement with issues of how globalization means inclusivity and the urgent need for health-care and related benefits to make it to the last mile, to reach these children who remain excluded despite the world making strides in economic progress.
“…the communities they live in are not just the last to be reached, they are also the hardest to reach. Because of this, a shift in mindset is needed to reach them too. Instead of focusing on scale, we must develop new kinds of partnerships, collaborations and technologies to make that last child our first priority.”
2. THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION
At the WEF 2019, world leaders like Jack Ma took a deep-dive into understanding and elaborating the future of education. Envisaging how children with content with machines, he preempts the need to adapt education to be more inclusive in terms of what has been included within its scope, globally. He emphasized the importance of relationships, curiosity, agility, creativity and empathy and their need to be included in the mandate of education that children are exposed to. A shift from seeking knowledge, to seeking happiness and balance for children to be more enabled in the modern age was highly stressed upon. “If we accept that the role of education is to furnish our children with the best understanding, skills and values for a prosperous and happy life, then how do we arm them for a future that we can’t imagine? Do we even need knowledge in a world of Alexa and Siri? Is the skill of agility now more valuable than the gaining of knowledge?”, were some crucial questions that thinkers and leaders made an effort to engage with.
3. ACTING ON MENTAL HEALTH
An elusive and ambiguous concept for the longest while, mental health for children and adults alike has begun to be slowly included in our overall understanding of what health comprises. An example of this was the proposal for the “well-being budget” by Prince William and Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. To see politics through a lens of “kindness, empathy and well-being”, in order to impact the quality of people’s lives was the underlined purpose of this proposal. The example of the community centered mental health intervention from Zimbabwe of “Friendship Benches” brought to the WEF this year, was a heart-warming example of how healthy community practices can change the understanding of mental health, that has long term impact not just on adults, but children and teenagers too.
“Sitting together on a Friendship Bench in a quiet corner of the grounds of a health centre, our community grandmothers listen and spend time working through problems that could be causing or worsening a person’s mental health, coming up with possible solutions and agreeing a plan of action…And it works. Children went back in school. Mothers and fathers found work. An independent clinical review has found that the Friendship Bench was proving a more effective treatment for depression and anxiety than conventional medical treatments or clinical therapies.”
4. WHY CHILDREN NEED TO PLAY
Play or the lack of it has finally started gaining importance in how it impacts the overall growth and development of a child. The Real Play Coalition at Davos is an example of leading toy makers in the world coming together to stress the importance of play, by focusing on governments, schools and parents who undervalue play. “The simple act of free, self-initiated play helps unlock a child’s innate creativity, imagination, interests and talents… It helps children to uncover who they are, and imparts invaluable skills they will need to possess in the uncertain future they will face tomorrow.”, educator and creativity guru, Ken Robinson. At Davos, it was heartening to see businessmen and toy makers making an attempt to adopt this approach towards exploring the more intimate working of how play makes a cognitive difference to the journey of a child and emphasizing that play matters.
5. IMPACT OF INCREASED EXPOSURE TO SCREEN TIME
Included in conversations on how we assume health care for children was also the detrimental impacts of an exposure to excessive screen time. An article published on the WEF blog explores the impact of exposure to screen time, “A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that 54 percent of U.S. teens said they spend too much time on their phones, and 60 percent of them consider spending too much time online to be a “major problem.” The data seem to back that up, with today’s teenagers reporting lower levels of drinking, sex and drug use, yet higher levels of depression and loneliness.” With screen addiction becoming a disturbing reality with children across the world, it is time to figure out ways to balance access and abstinence from technology so as to enable more holistic childhoods.