El Día del Niño

El Día del Niño or Children’s Day is an annual celebration honoring children and promoting activities that will protect their rights and well-being. It is celebrated on different days in different countries, but it is celebrated on April 30 in the United States and Mexico.

The commemoration began after WWI when people recognized the catastrophic affects of war on the civilian population, especially children. One of the first activists to champion the cause was Eglantyne Jebb who founded Save the Children which continues to support needy children today.

Jebb was appalled by photos of children starving in enemy countries, due to military blockades. She joined the Fight the Famine Council, a group working to get food and medical supplies to these children. She stood in Trafalgar Square and handed out leaflets that showed the emaciated children with a headline: “Our blockade has caused this – millions of children are starving to death.”

Passersby turned away from the disturbing flyer. But Eglantyne was determined not to let people ignore what she believed was a violation of these children’s human rights. Her passion that day led to her being arrested. She was found guilty and fined for her protest, but the judge was so impressed with her commitment that he paid her fine. His money became the first donation to Save the Children.

Two years later, Russia was experiencing famine due to political and civil unrest and a rail system that couldn’t effectively distribute food. Millions of children were dying. Jebb and Save the Children chartered a cargo ship, the SS Torcello, to carry 600 tons of lifesaving food and medical supplies to Russia – an impressive feat of international negotiations and logistics that saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

In 1924 Jebb wrote the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and the League of Nations presented it to leaders around the world. November 20 was declared Universal Day of the Child. Ironically, Mexico celebrates it on April 30 because November 20 coincides with its Día de la Revolución.

I always thought El Día del Niño was a Mexican holiday, as it is very big there. And in the United States El Día del Niño (not Children’s Day) is widely celebrated as well. A cursory Internet search yielded activities in Orange County, California, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and the Denver Art Museum.

El Día del Niño has now become associated with children’s books and literacy.

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