In honour of Universal Children’s Day this year, we interviewed global development advocate and local MP for Stafford, Jeremy Lefroy.
From 1989 to 2000, Jeremy and his family lived in Tanzania where he worked in the coffee industry. On returning to the UK, he worked with smallholder farmers in East Africa, until his election to Parliament in 2010. Jeremy serves on the International Development Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights in the Houses of Parliament.
Jeremy’s involvement in politics stems from a desire to see people have the opportunity to make the most of their lives.
How has your experience of working in Tanzania shaped your view of the developing world?
When you live in a country for a long time, it inevitably gives you a different perspective to when you visit it for a short period. You see the positive things as well as the negative.
The major things I learnt were that if you’re working in development, and especially economic development, you’re there as a partner and supporter to work alongside people. You need to work for the long term and it’s all about building relationships.
"The one thing all children have in common is their rights. Every child has the right to survive and thrive, to be educated, to be free from violence and abuse, to participate and to be heard." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
How have you witnessed poverty removing or undermining a child’s rights?
When children have no access to school, their rights are undermined. In Pakistan, some women had set up a private school for children who couldn’t afford to go to school and were working in a nearby brick factory. Although the school was basic, it was wonderful to see those children able to go instead of being forced to work. These women were making a huge difference to children’s lives. Overnight, these children had been taken from a situation where there was no hope for them and life was dangerous to a place where they could enjoy childhood.
It’s also good to remember that it’s one thing going to school but it’s another thing getting a quality education.
From your experience working in International Development, what are some of the obstacles that stop children living in poverty from reaching their full potential?
Education is key, but it also might be a lack of a close family around them. That could be because of the circumstances of their birth, or because of a lack of income, their parents are forced to work long hours. In some places, the father might go off to work in a mine and not get back for months. The children aren’t in the loving family home that we would want for them. You hear that it takes a village to raise a child and in Tanzania they say, “Mkono mmoja haulei mwana.” (Literal translation: One hand cannot bring up a child) and you see people rally around in support when a child is in trouble.
I’ve visited schools in Sierra Leone set up as “catch-up” schools for children who have missed out on years of education due to years of civil conflict, it’s basic but it’s better than nothing.
You’re a father. You know what it means to provide for your family and children. What do you think children living in the neediest communities around the world need to flourish and thrive?
Health-care and nutrition are vital. If a child is properly nourished, it makes a huge difference to their development. Also, basic health measures such as vaccinations are important for children.
Children need security. If a child lives in a conflict-affected zone as we have seen in Syria at the moment, it has a terrible impact.
Why is it strategic to focus on children in development contexts?
Because it’s the right thing to do. We all focus on our children, they are the most important people to us in the world, alongside our spouse and why shouldn’t that be the case for every child? If people are in a situation where they cannot help their children but they are desperate to, we should be supporting them.
Secondly, they’re the future of the country. If you don’t allow them or support them in their education and health, your country is in a dire position for the future.
That’s why aside from trying to sort the Syrian war out around a negotiation table and obtaining peace, we have to focus on Syria’s children.
Some children around the world are losing years of schooling. If we don’t want our own children to lose out, that’s what we should want for, expect and anticipate for children all around the world.
This Universal Children's Day, help a child "survive, thrive, be educated and free from violence and abuse".