“No social problem is as universal as the oppression of the child … No slave was ever so much the property of his master as the child is of his parent … Never were the rights of man ever so disregarded as in the case of the child.” – Maria Montessori (1870-1952)
Imagine a life without choices. A life where your position and status have been decided long before you even had the ability to speak for yourself. While this seems like a violation of human rights, children are born every day into a cycle of poverty that has been made next to impossible to escape – a cycle that is perpetuated by failing education systems and a complete lack of access to proper health care. These factors can leave children working in sweatshops, factories, fields, and begging on the streets. It can also leave them sick and dying of preventable diseases. It is for reasons such as this that November 20 has been declared Universal Children’s Day by the United Nations. Today is a day where we can share knowledge and advocate for those that are undoubtedly most vulnerable in our world. Unless we demand proper access to health and education, our children will continue to suffer from the systems we have put in place. For Pakistan and Afghanistan, failing to invest in their youth (aged 0-25) means ignoring 63% and 68% of their populations respectively. This article will look specifically at child labor in Afghanistan and children’s health in Pakistan, discussing the areas in which each country is failing their future generations and what the long-term consequences of this may be. While in the short run the cost of increasing access to health and education to millions of children seems impossibly high, the cost in the long run of not investing can create stunted growth and development for generations to come.
Our children are our responsibility yet we are failing to invest in them and give them the future that they deserve. Underlying causes of our failure cannot be ignored: climate change, natural disasters, economic crises, lack of information on hygiene, corruption, and war. It is no doubt that the disasters in Pakistan have been a key player in the increase of water-borne diseases and malnutrition among children and in the destruction of schools and health facilities. At the same time, the conflict in Afghanistan deeply affects the number of children with access to education and health services. However, it is now time to move past these barriers and reclaim the rights of our children. Children hold the potential to bring peace, equality, and growth to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the future. In terms of development strategies, children represent the greatest opportunity but also the greatest failure for the economies of both countries depending on whether or not we choose to invest. By protecting our children we are also protecting our economy and ensuring growth for the future.
It is our task to invest in our children to ensure that they live up to their potential. By providing services such as health and education on a greater scale we are working towards ending a cycle of poverty in which lies little hope. We must remember: investing in child health and education is not our choice – it is their right.
 UNDP, UNDP and the Youth, (2012)