Children are the greatest gift to a family and country, and their souls are the heaviest responsibility. Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero and a country that provides food, vaccine and education is a champion.
From all of existence there is no sound more annoying than the hopeless cry of a child, and none sadder than the silence they leave when they are gone. A responsible family and country are sacred places cherished by beautiful gaze, smiling face and innocent giggling of children. Newly born children are not only children of a single family. They all are the sons and daughters of a country, citizens of tomorrow which you cannot visit. If we are worried about the future, then we must look today at the upbringing of children.
Eritrea is a country which does not allow a child to die of curable and preventable illness. The tremendous success story of Eritrea in child care is a clear proof that good economic performance is not the only factor in achieving Millennium Development Goals related to child mortality. In the absence of potential partners and limited financial capacity, the government’s advanced planning and commitment to reduce child and maternal mortality was an amazing success story that the world witnessed during the evaluation of the progress of MDGs. The government in Eritrea has developed a know how to overcome financial shortage by political willingness and courage. Political willingness, commitment and confidence are available capital assets never counted by GDP and census figures and are drivers to a successful, sustained achievement toward Goal 4 (Reduce child mortality) and Goal 5 (Improve maternal health).
Eritrea is committed to bringing up its children in safety, educating them and keeping them healthy. Long before the global initiative of MDGs Eritrea was committed to minimizing infant mortality and to care for its children. The national charter of Eritrea (1994) stipulated that “In Eritrea, the rights of children to education, health, love, safety, play, and human dignity must be respected.” A country which fails to be a mother and father to her children can never be a real country. The greatest thing a country can do for her children is to respect the woman that gave birth. It is because of the birth giving mother that the country has received the greatest resource which is the young generation. According to the reports of the Ministry of Health 93% of pregnant women are becoming beneficiaries of prenatal services. In compliance with the MDGs attempt to improve maternal health targeted to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters, Eritrea scored promising results. Eritrea appears to be one of the few African countries set to achieve Goals 4 and 5. Now Eritrea stands in a reliable position to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, that will build on the success of the MDGs to ensure sustainable social and economic progress. Among the goals that lead the planet to 2030, goal 3 stated “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. It aims to ensure health and well-being for all at all ages by improving reproductive, maternal and child health; ending the epidemics of major communicable diseases; reducing non-communicable and environmental diseases; achieving universal health coverage; and ensuring access to safe, affordable and effective medicines and vaccines for all. In this regard, Eritrea is confident to meet the Sustainable Development Goals ahead of time.
Eritrea has a remarkable track record of ratifying international conventions and human rights treaties. Among those is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) agreed on 1994_ perhaps the first international convention that Eritrea signed. “As one of the first State signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Eritrea remains fully committed to its operationalization” (UNICEF 2013, 4). The same report further acknowledged the initiative of the government in establishing “An inter-ministerial framework to guide the government’s actions with regard to the Convention on the Rights of the Child”. The new civil and penal code of Eritrea has many good qualities in relation to the rights of a child. To mention some: Art 567(1) civil code specified that “the spouses shall co operate …to ensure the moral and material direction of the family, the upbringing of the children and the preparation of the children for their place in society”. This article resembles Art 18 of the convention on rights of children which stated that “States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child.” Art 609 (1) civil code also mentioned “The custody and support of children born of the marriage shall be regulated having regard solely to the best interest of such children.”
Art. 101 of penal code of Eritrea related to measures applicable to child offender states that “A child offender shall not be subject to the punishment prescribed in this book or elsewhere in this penal code.” Instead the law ordered any of or a combination of the following measures that may be ordered by a Court upon finding that a child offender has committed an offence otherwise punishable under this Code. They include (a) a reprimand or warning; (b) the placing of the child offender under the care of his parents or other suitable guardian; (c) the placing of the child offender in a suitable home especially established for the care of children; (d) upon a finding of a need for medical, emotional or mental treatment, placement of the child offender under the care of a professional qualified to provide such treatment; and (e) other measures in respect to the living and up-bringing of the child offender that will aid in the reformation of the child offender. Art 101(3) also ordered “A finding that a child offender has committed a criminal offence shall not be considered a criminal conviction.” The national charter of Eritrea also indicates that “We are striving to make Eritrea a country of justice and equality where dignity and basic human rights are respected. In Eritrea, social rights of women, children… and others who deserve assistance, must be respected”
Today when we look around the world, we’re confronted with an uncomfortable truth that millions of children’s lives are destroyed for no other reason than the country into which they are born. According to ‘The State of the World’s Children 2016’ a child born in Sierra Leone today is about 30 times more likely to die before age 5 than a child born in the United Kingdom (UNICEF 2016, 9). It further reported that “In 2015, about 80 per cent of these deaths occurred in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and almost half occurred in just five countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Pakistan… For approximately 1 million children in 2015, their first day of life was also their last” (Ibid, 10).
Every child is born with the same inalienable right to a healthy start in life, an education and a safe, secure childhood – all the basic opportunities that translate into a productive and prosperous adulthood. In the world where millions of children are denied their rights and deprived of everything they need to grow up healthy, to see Eritrea a poor country and victim of unjust UN sanction to provide protection, medication and education for its children is miraculous. UNICEF warned that if the world does not change its course in the way to the collective journey to 2030, 69 million children under age five will die and 60 million children of primary school age will be out of school. In contrast to this bitter fact, if Eritrea keeps its momentum of the current progress there will be no child mortality of preventable and curable diseases by 2030. Eritrea’s progress achieved towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) demonstrated the power of self reliant national action.
When a country fails to provide affordable health service to prevent illness, society pays a price in terms of money and life. The vision of health sector of Eritrea is to provide health care “that is effective, efficient, acceptable, affordable and accessible to all citizens”. The free health service improved maternal and child health and enables children of the poor and far areas to realize their potential. To significantly reduce the burden of early childhood illnesses and improve maternal and child health development are strategic objectives of national health policy of Eritrea. Basic Health Care Package (BHCP) that aims at maximizing value for available resources consists of three priority programmes: (i) maternal and child health, (ii) control of communicable diseases and (iii) prevention, control and management of non-communicable diseases (MOH 2010, 7). Although the investment needed to end preventable child and maternal deaths is great, it offers high returns. In Eritrea, antenatal care, delivery, immunization, family planning, nutrition and other services are some of the health interventions provided with regard to maternal and child health care. At the moment, immunization coverage has progressively increased to reach all places. In Eritrea all children have the same opportunities to survive, develop and attain their full potential. The policy of social justice enabled the citizens of the country to have a fair chance for every child.
The moral value of a society is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable members including but not limited to children. Children are entitled to the protection and special care of the family, society and country. As adults we the have right to marry and to found a family freely and we have also a responsibility to bring up children with proper care and affection. Society’s future can be predicted by the degree to which it provides every child a fair opportunity. Proper child care is an expensive investment for a bright future.