Children still under siege

Thalif Deen

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which came into force in September 1990, has been described as a landmark treaty ensuring the human rights of the world’s 2.2 billion children. But despite the fact the treaty has been ratified by all of the world’s governments — with the exception of the US and Somalia — about 218 million children still suffer the worst forms of child labour, while 250,000 to 300,000 have been forcibly pressed into military service as child soldiers.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF says that nearly half the estimated 3.6 million people killed in military conflicts since 1990 were children. But the escalating violence against children has continued irrespective of the fact the UNCRC obligates states parties to protect children from all forms of violence. Although the US and Somalia have failed or refused to ratify the treaty for political or other reasons, 193 countries have pledged to protect the world’s mostly beleaguered children.

“Regrettably, the impressive endorsements given to these rights through nice statements or even legal instruments are insufficiently translated into reality by most governmental institutions,” says Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, commissioner and rapporteur on the rights of children at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Organisation of American States. Despite all the commitments on paper, he pointed out, there are many who portray child rights as a “soft topic” in the human rights agenda, somehow not deserving the same attention given to more polemic issues.

“This truly constrains the effectiveness of any initiative tackling violence against children,” said Sergio Pinheiro, who also authored a comprehensive UN report on violence against children in October 2006. In his study, he said that no violence against children is justifiable — and all violence against children is preventable. Addressing the third forum of the Tokyo-based Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) in Hiroshima over the weekend, he pointed out that where violence is occurring, early detection mechanisms must be in place and victims must be provided with necessary assistance.

The Arigatou Foundation of Japan, the organisers of the Hiroshima Forum, is convinced the time has come for the world’s religious institutions, and all those who profess religious faith, to come forward and join hands in this global fight to alleviate the suffering of children and promote their well-being. Since its founding in May 2000, GNRC has emerged as an important global alliance of religious organisations and people of faith committed to interfaith dialogue and action aimed at improving the lives of children. One of the themes of the Hiroshima Forum, currently underway, is “the ethical imperative to end violence against children.”

A discussion paper released here says that violence is often justified in the name of religion. But religion is abused when it is made a reason for staging wars and conflicts. In his study, described as the first global study on all forms of violence against children, Sergio Pinheiro says violence against children is possibly one of the most invisible and prevalent forms of violence because it remains unregistered and unpunished, even condoned by society under the guise of discipline or tradition.