- For the right to a dignified and wholesome life -
The Child's Name Is Today
We are guilty of many errors and faults
But our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life.
Many things we need can wait
The Child cannot
Right now is the time bones are being formed,
Blood is being made, senses are being developed.
To the Child we cannot answer 'Tomorrow'
The Child's name is Today.
The world's religions believe in the sacredness of life and recognize the inherent dignity of all children. All religious traditions appreciate the gifts that children bring to the community and recognize their right to be loved, to be cared for, and to enjoy true protection and well-being.
Religions have placed a strong emphasis on the unique value of childhood and the promise children represent for the present and future of humanity. Thus, religious communities cannot be indifferent to the many kinds of violence that victimize children, and must act out of their faith, moral responsibility, and belief in the transformative power of authentic love.
The child's first experience of love, nurturing and participation should take place in the family, which constitutes the primary unit of society. But poverty, unemployment and disintegration of families are at the root of children's suffering and marginalization in many parts of the world. Too often, neither the members of the family nor the community to which they belong have the necessary means to provide for the physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development of children. In many cases, the family life is psychologically or physically detrimental for the children, who are forced to run away from home in search of their own security. There are more than 100 million street children in the world today.
Social and economic inequalities, the absence of a culture of love and solidarity, and the inability of the society as a whole to provide a healthy environment destroy opportunities for children. This leads in turn to domestic violence, child abuse, increasing numbers of street children, harmful forms of child labor, sexual exploitation of children, HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency and suicide.
Particularly in developing countries, many children are forced to start working in exploitative and dangerous conditions at an early age, often to help support their families. The problem of child labor has become enormous, with an estimated 250 million children aged 4 to 14 working worldwide. Violence against children is rampant in many places, even in the so-called developed countries. Sexual abuse and exploitation is one of the most grievous problems affecting children. In many ways, it is also a dramatic demonstration of the failure of religious people to influence the moral and spiritual behavior of communities. UNICEF reports that two million children fall victim to the sex industry every year. The girl child also suffers additional forms of discrimination rooted in cultural beliefs and practices. And as of 1998, there were 590,000 children worldwide infected with the HIV virus.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the fundamental role of the family in the life of the child and identifies it as the best environment for raising children, provided that this takes place in an atmosphere of love and understanding. The family should be provided with the necessary protection and assistance so that it can assume its fundamental responsibility.
There is an increasing awareness in the international community that urgent action for children is needed. Religious communities are well-situated to help dignify the lives of children, by embracing them with love and acceptance, promoting their self-esteem, self-reliance and self-respect, and advocating full regard for their rights. This is particularly important for children who have experienced discrimination, rejection, exploitation and abuse.
When they are given the opportunity to do so, marginalized children often engage in positive actions for peace and the improvement of their own life conditions, with a strong sense of hope and tenderness. Our ability to view these actions with authentic generosity will enable us to work together with them in building a more wholesome world.
Religious leaders and communities must cooperate with families, communities, governments and all people of good will to raise awareness of the deplorable conditions surrounding children. Together, we must guarantee that all children have the opportunity to grow up in safe families and communities. We must take meaningful action to improve the well-being of children, particularly of those in critical situations.
Actions can include: lobbying for the implementation and fulfillment of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; designing, implementing and continuing to monitor specific activities for the prevention of harm to children; intervention in specific situations where children are abused and discriminated against; rehabilitating and rebuilding society by challenging the values that lie behind the abuse and exploitation of children; giving children the opportunity to participate together with adults; advocating social, economic and political solutions relating to children, their families and communities; praying for God's forgiveness for the lack of real love for and the prejudice against children; and praying for God's blessings for the children of the world, particularly for those who are poor and marginalized but can still share with us beautiful dreams, authentic love and energizing hope.
Note: The statistical information cited in this paper has been taken from UNICEF and other UN agency sources.
Questions for Discussion
1. What are the values and principles that the different religions can offer to the world for building communities where children can live in dignity, be fully respected and have their contributions valued?
2. Is it possible to harmonize the needs for protection and guidance that children have with recognition of their freedom, self-reliance and right to participation?
3. How can religious people, out of their faith and moral responsibility, take action on the critical issues related to the childhood victims of violence (e.g., street children, child laborers, and children suffering from sexual exploitation)? What are the concrete recommendations for action?