Internally displaced children attending classes at a displacement camp in Maiduguri, Borno state, September 2015. 

© 2015 Bede Sheppard/Human Rights Watch.

For children in many parts of the world, 2016 could not have been worse. From the siege of Aleppo in Syria to frightening percentages of children at risk in Yemen, events have reminded us over and over again of how we have failed children. Yet amidst all the grim news, 2016 also brought some encouraging progress.

As the year comes to a close, here are just a few of the positive developments for kids:

  • Sudan signed an action plan with the United Nations this year to end its use of child soldiers. All seven governments known to recruit children have now pledged to end the practice, and the UN reports that since 2000, more than 115,000 child soldiers have been released.
     
  • This year, Gambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe each banned child marriage. Just this month, 300 communities across four African countries pledged to abandon child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
  • France, Madagascar, and Eritrea each banned life sentences for child offenders this year, while 17 US states now ban life without parole for child offenders, triple the number just five years ago.
  • An estimated 10,000 children in the Central African Republic were able to resume their education after militia forces were ordered to vacate schools. Fifty-six countries have now endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, committing themselves to protecting education from attack and refraining from using schools for military purposes.
  • Rwanda has transferred thousands of children from institutions to families as it phases out orphanages; Japan also adopted a new law guaranteeing family-based care for all children.
  • Mongolia, Paraguay, and Slovenia this year prohibited all corporal punishment of children, bringing the number of countries with such bans to 51 – more than triple the number 10 years ago.

Are children still subject to terrible violations? Of course. But seeing progress can encourage us to redouble our efforts for children in 2017. Exploitation and abuse are still far too prevalent, but we know that our advocacy can make a difference. 

(Top: Left to Right) Twin sisters with mobility disabilities making their way to school in China.© 2009 Private; Girls from the Kalokol Girls Primary School fetch water from a dry riverbed to carry back to their school, which does not have access to running water. © 2014 Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images for Human Rights Watch; Abdulmajid, 11, (left) and his brother Mohammed, 9, in Mersin, southern Turkey. In February 2015, they fled Syria with their family and have not attended school since 2012. © 2015 Stephanie Gee/Human Rights Watch

(Bottom: Left to Right) A 13-year-old boy, who mines gold, attends classes in a small-scale mining area in Mbeya Region. © 2013 Justin Purefoy for Human Rights Watch; Damaged school in Nikishine Rebel fighters deployed inside the school between September 2014 and February 2015 and exchanged intense fire with Ukrainian forces. © 2015 Yulia Gorbunova/Human Rights Watch; Sifola, age 13, stands in the home she shares with her husband and in-laws. © 2015 Omi for Human Rights Watch