Following is an introduction to a Social Justice Issue: "Children at Risk." (Craig Kielburger, an inspirational person; Remembering Our Children, a ritual; and A Prayer to the God of All Children, a spirituality and art piece, are complementary pieces.) Links to web sites are included for *in-depth information, *analysis, *action ideas, *contacts, and *organizing initiatives. You are encouraged to use the links to take you to facets of this issue that speak to your heart, mind, and desire to unite your faith with action.
Children at Risk
Introduction Widespread Abuse and Neglect of Children
Making a Difference for Children Action Alerts!
Children constitute almost one-half of the six billion people on the planet. Tremendous numbers of them are suffering and dying. To reflect on violence against children is to connect with major social ills in our world today: disease and domination, inequalities and injustices, poverty and pollution, weapons and wars.
- Lacking Basic Rights- With estimates of two billion people living in poverty, millions and millions of children lack basic education, health care, and housing. While child motality rates are falling, approximately 21,000 children still die every day. There are at least 130 million children, approximately 20 percent of all the world's children of school age, who have no school to attend. Millions of others are attending schools with the barest minimum of supplies. Sexism leaves more girls than boys out of the classroom. Even in the United States, poverty is a growing problem, especially with the recession. The new face of poverty is often a child's, with Hispanic children setting records. One in four U.S. children live in poverty, a staggering figure.
"We do not stand here advocating big government; we advocate just government ... For decades slavery and racial segregation were legal, but they were not just and right. Let us stand up until America does what is just
and right for every child."
Marian Wright Edelman
Exec. Dir. CDF
- Impacted by Diseases- Lacking the basics (adequate sanitation, health care, good water, safe environments, adequate nutrition, education), children suffer and die from malnutrition, diarrhea, diphtheria, malaria, respiratory illnesses, and other diseases. AIDS has become a great threat to children; it is estimated that as many as half of the 15-year-olds will die from the disease. Tobacco, the single most lethal agent to humanity, is aggressively marketed to children, particularly in economically-developing countries; 90 percent of those who smoke begin doing so before their 18th birthday.
B) Forced into Child Labor
For basic survival of themselves and/or their families, children are forced to labor as factory and agricultural workers, as cleaners, in the sex trade, and in a host of other occupations. Even the very youngest are engaged in long hours of repetitive, often dangerous work. Sweatshops thrive on the abuse of children. Education is sacrificed.
This is true around the globe, including the United States, where the most dangerous occupation for children is as farm workers. This is documented in the agricultural industry in these reports: Fingers to the Bone: United States Failure to Protect Child Farmworkers and Children in the Field: An American Problem.
C) Ravaged by Armed Conflict
As Impacted by War- Children suffer the greatest effects of war: being terrorized, being maimed and killed, and having their lives totally-disrupted by the bombing and shooting. Children's health is also impacted by the loss of basic services -- such as water, electricity, schooling, and health care.
As Refugees- Children are most at risk when their families suffer from war and other conflicts or are displaced by natural disasters.
As Child Soldiers- Increasingly, children are not only victims of war, but also are combatants. An estimated 250,000 children under the age of 18 -- with some as young as seven years old -- are fighting in conflicts worldwide. Some are forcibly recruited, trained, and forced to kill; others join to escape poverty, alienation, and discrimination. Girl soldiers also are prone to sexual harassment, rape, and abuse.
D) Living in Dangerous Environments
Landmines- Landmines have claimed more than one million victims since 1975. Many of these are children, due to their natural curiosity and playfulness. Young people are maimed or killed when working in fields where millions of undetonated landmines are buried.
Guns/Drugs- Children are injured or killed where guns are prevalent for defensive purposes, because of drugs, or where there are wars and civil unrest.
Pollution- In agriculture, juvenile farm workers are routinely exposed to dangerous pesticides. In low-income areas especially, lead is a dangerous pollutant. Waste treatment facilities are located in areas where citizens have little political and economic clout to say "not in my backyard." Even when environmental laws and enforcement are adequate, the by-products of these businesses are dangerous. There is a crisis in water access, health and usage issues; children, whose bodies are more vulnerable, suffer the worst consequences.
E) Tortured and Ill-Treated
Amnesty International's report on the torture and mistreatment of boys and girls was appalling: "Children are tortured by the police or security forces; detained in appalling conditions; beaten or sexually abused by parents, teachers or employers; maimed, killed or turned into killers by war."
One of the worst global crimes against children is sexual use and abuse. Owning children as slaves has never been cheaper. Most feel trapped by poverty, violence, and threats of retribution. Sex tourism, child prostitution, and child trafficking occur in countries from Thailand to the United States. Aboriginal women and teenagers are the targeted victims in Canada. Since the earthquake, Haitian children are even more vulnerable to child trafficking.
Making a Difference for Children
Guided by the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to advocate for the protection of children's rights. UNICEF's report, The State of the World's Children 2008: Child Survival, calls for across-the-board leadership to ensure the rights of children. A U.N. Special Session on Children was held in May 2002, at which a special statement from children, A World Fit for Us, was delivered.
One of the most remarkable and effective international networks is Free the Children. Founded by Craig Kielburger when he was only 12 years old, FTC is the "world's largest network of children helping children through education."
Founded by Marian Wright Edelman, the mission of the U.S.-based Children's Defense Fund (CDF) is to "leave no child behind;" special attention is given to poor and minority children, as well as those with disabilities. The Children's Music Network recognizes children's music as a powerful means of encouraging cooperation, celebrating diversity, building self-esteem, promoting respect and responsibility for the environment, and cultivating an understanding of nonviolence and social justice. Human Rights Watch (HRW) focuses on children's rights from several perspectives, including child labor, child soldiers, refugees, street children, and violence and discrimination in schools.
In solidarity with UNICEF, work for the freedom and well-being of youth in these way:
- Urge President Obama to protect children from the global arms trade.
- Listen to the 2013 Children's/Youth Inaugural Address.
- For the health and well-being of children, tell your senators that the Pentagon must pay its fair share in budget cuts.
- Individually or in a discussion group, reflect on The State of the World's Children, Children's Dental Shortages Fuel Major Access Problem, and The Recession Generation.
- Pray the Remembering Our Children and Responding to Cries for Freedom rituals.
- Read the Chicago Tribune report: Playing with Fire. Watch the Stoller Brigade video.
- Act to end child prostitution and trafficking. Stop the demand for trafficking in women and children.
- Visit the Stop Trafficking web site; read their newsletter on trafficking (May 2013 issue; Marzo 2013.)
- Read and reflect on
- Mary Meehan's article, In Harm's Way, about the effects of war on children, born and unborn.
- Greg Kaufman's weekly blog on poverty, which includes how much poverty impacts children.
- Sign a postcard to stop gun violence. Help stop the merchandizing of violence to children.
- Visit UNICEF's section Voices of Youth.
- Baby your baby with the freshest, healthiest food. Urge your senators to co-sponsor the Safe Chemicals Act. Help Mind the Store: pressure retailers to clear toxics off their shelves.
- Reflect on UNICEF's Photo Essays, I and II, on the rights of the child. Advocate for the long-overdue U.S. ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Participate in economic action to end sweatshops and forced child labor.
- For children's health: Participate in the Smoke-Free Movies campaign, sign petition to keep smoking out of kid-related movies, and support the Child Health site.
Gratitude to the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters' Veronica Grant Fund
for supporting the addition of this critical social justice issue,
as well as Women --Striving for Freedom, Peace, and Equality.