Suffer the little children?
By Jim Poling Sr.
Published March 14, 2019
“The child that is hungry must be fed. The child that is sick must be nursed. The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress.”
Those are not my words. They are words almost 100 years old. Words from the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the League of Nations in 1924.
They are words reinforced by United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989. This year marks the 30th anniversary of that convention.
However, too often words are simply letters printed on paper or digital screens. Words require belief, passion and commitment before they can have positive impact.
Millions of words have been written about how we humans treat our children. Declarations of rights have been signed. Laws have been passed. Yet, across large tracts of human society children are abused, allowed to go hungry, sick and uneducated.
The animals of the forest treat their children better than humans treat theirs.
One in every four children now live in countries torn by war or other disaster, says the 2018 Humanitarian Action for Children Report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). It adds that nearly 50 million children have been uprooted from their homes due to violence, poverty or natural disasters.
Children are used as pawns in wars. They are recruited as soldiers, some fitted with explosive packs and sent out as suicide bombers.
In Afghanistan 89 per cent of civilian war casualities are children. An estimated 5,000 Afghan children were killed or maimed during the first nine months of 2018.
The United Nations has verified that 1,497 children have died or been maimed in the war there. It also has verified the killing of 870 children in Syria during the first nine months of last year.
But it is not just war that is devastating children. In some villages in India, children deemed old enough – 10 or 11 - are expected to start doing sex work. There are believed to be at least one million child prostitutes in India, where some prostitution is legal.
Child trafficking is booming. Humanium, a children’s charity, says that upwards of 20,000 Ethiopian children, some as young as 10, are sold by their parents in a trade that flourishes on poverty.
When they are not being blown apart or forced into the sex trade, children in many countries are being starved and denied education.
UNICEF says that in war-torn Yemen 30,000 children under five years old die every year of malnutrition-related diseases. The effects of malnutrition will be around long after the conflict ends.
Hospitals and schools are used for military purposes in Yemen and the health and education systems basically have collapsed.
Says Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs:
“For too long, parties to conflict have been committing atrocities with near-total impunity, and it is only getting worse. . . . Children living in countries at war have come under direct attack, have been used as human shields, killed, maimed or recruited to fight. Rape, forced marriage and abduction have become standard tactics in conflicts from Syria to Yemen, and from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar.”
It is not just in far off, under-developed countries that children suffer. UNICEF says that Canada, the world’s fifth most prosperous country, is 25th out of 41 affluent nations ranked for well-being of children. We are ranked near the bottom in terms of key measures on child health, safety and poverty.
In 1989 the Canadian House of Commons voted to eradicate child poverty. Today more than one million Canadian children live in poverty.
Perhaps we humans should take lessons from the animals of the forest on how to treat children. As Jim and Jamie Dutcher note in their new book The Wisdom of Wolves:
“In a wolf pack, there are no forgotten children. Every pup is worth teaching, every pup valued and every pup is eventually expected to make a contribution to the well-being of the pack.”
Meanwhile, the world has 2.2 billion children. One billion, roughly every second child, lives in poverty.
That kind of leaves you wondering who the wild animals of the world really are.