Today is Universal Children’s Day. It marks the day when the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) were adopted. The Convention was a landmark document that took ten years to draft and that has now been ratified by 196 states; every country on the planet except the US.
This is on my mind as I prepare to speak on human rights at the biennial International Drug Policy Reform Conference, taking place in Washington DC, an important convening of civil society actors in advance of next year’s UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem next April. It is a gathering of some 1,400 people that seek an end to the global war on drugs — a war that has been waged for decades in the name of protecting children.
We all agree that we have to protect children and young people from the harmful effects of drug use and from exploitation by the drugs trade. This is so self-evident it hardly needs saying, but it is nonetheless reiterated time and again as if, without more, it is justification for staying the course.
But let’s look at this course we are on.
There are over 10 million people in penal institutions around the world. The numbers of people in prison and pre-trial custody for non-violent drug offences globally are not known, but regional and national statistics seem to indicate it could potentially be into the millions. Among them are young people, but also parents. In fact, one in four women (28%) in prison in Europe and Central Asia are incarcerated for non-violent drug offences. Many of these women are the primary caregivers for their families, highlighting the acute and chronic problems for children associated with the over-use of prison as a response to drug offences.
Added to these millions are the tens of millions of families who are saddled with criminal records, so casually handed down for petty drugs offences committed by a parent or child. These punitive decisions cause long-term damage to individuals and families, limiting their opportunities and stifling their chances to live fulfilling lives.
Incarceration and criminal records aren’t the only issues. There are many more problems associated with the current drug control policies and their effects on families and children.
Four fifths of the world population, representing billions of people in the developing world have no or inadequate access to the most basic of medicines, such as morphine, to control pain.
We are set to miss global HIV targets by decades because money and other resources are flushed down the sinkhole of ineffective enforcement rather than being invested in evidence-based harm reduction services.
Hundreds of thousands are still being arbitrarily detained because they are drug dependent or suspected of being drug dependent. Among them are, again, children and parents.
There are many hundreds of thousands of people displaced due to crop eradication campaigns and drug related violence. Children have lost parents or been themselves killed in drug related violence in Mexico and elsewhere.
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