LONDON -- It is now more than 200 days since 219 Nigerian girls were ambushed in the grounds of their school, kidnapped and forced into captivity by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
This, and a hundred other violations of children's rights from Syria to Sudan, is the theme of a conference today that will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the most widely signed convention of all time, the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Today, 25 million children are displaced refugees, exiled from their country with the likelihood that they will be refugees for 10 years. But the violations of children's rights extend beyond conflict zones. Today, 10 million school age children are forced into child marriage, 215 million are in child labor and 32 million girls are excluded from school -- many because of discrimination against them.
Yet, side by side with the helplessness of the captive Nigerian schoolgirls is the demand of a girl's movement called Bring Back Our Girls, which refuses to be cowed by the threats from Boko Haram to kill them. And the rising tide of young people's anger against violations of their rights is part of a pattern across the world; girls and boys themselves doing more than the adults who should be helping them to stand up and fight for their rights.
In short, what the world is seeing in 2014 is a liberation fight to end child marriage, child labor, child trafficking and the discrimination against girls to ensure that -- through compulsory universal education and other reforms -- these violations are brought to an end.
Last month campaigners for children's rights were given a boost with the announcement that Kailash Satyarthi, the anti-child labor campaigner, and the girls' rights leader Malala Yousafzai had jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is the first official recognition that a civil rights struggle led by young people is now underway. And it emphasizes the change we are seeing around the world: Young people themselves are now fighting for their civil rights.
Unwilling to wait for adults to discharge what should be their duties towards children, young people themselves are forming child marriage free zones, anti-slavery coalitions and civil rights groups across the world, from Nepal's Kamlari Children's Forum to Ethiopia's Yellow Movement of students.
In the 1950s, the world fought a civil rights struggle against colonialism, in the 1960s against color discrimination, in the 1970s and 1980s against apartheid. Now it is time to deal with unfinished business -- the continued violation of the rights of children. It is time to declare that ending the exploitation of children, especially girls, and ensuring the right to education is the civil rights cause of our generation.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP -- A CHILDREN'S COURT
So, today, on the anniversary of the CORC, Kailash Satyarthi, Kevin Watkins, head of the Overseas Development Institute and I are calling on the world community to support a new International Children's Court to stamp out the violations of children's rights and set in place a proper reporting and sanctions system.
According to the UN, just one in seven --14 percent -- of country reports are submitted on time, and 33 percent are not submitted even a year later.
Only 10 countries allow children and their representatives to bring cases before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, established by the convention, as part of the review process. Even then the average time lag between registration and final decision in cases taken up by the committee is three-and-a-half years, with no legal obligation on states to review and reform policies even when they are identified as being in violation of international human rights obligations.
One reason is that while great weight is attached to the assessment of legislative provisions, less emphasis is given to enforcement of laws that enact the principles set out in the convention.
THE RIGHT TO PETITION THE COURT
It is for this reason that we propose not only a Children's Court but also that children and their representatives should have the right to petition the court directly. The court should receive and investigate individual petitions, independently monitor performance in member states, and further review areas of concern, including child labor, child marriage and child slavery.
Such a system would also allow us to report on how inequalities in health and education harm the most marginalized children and how compulsory universal education is the best way of combating child labor, forced marriage and discrimination against girls.
About a decade ago, Graca Machel won the case for a reporting system to the UN Security Council through a new Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict whose work is backed by the threat of sanctions. The same system of representation, presentation and reporting should now be extended to child slavery, hazardous labor and forced marriage.