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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
Are we doing enough to protect our children?
A special United Nations summit in New York has adopted an action plan to improve children's lives in the coming decade.
The summit's final document includes programmes to protect children from war, poverty, diseases such as Aids and abuse, with specific targets for the coming years.
Over the past decade, two million children were killed, six million seriously injured, one million orphaned and 20 million children displaced by conflict situations.
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
If only all of these people writing here about how children should be protected could put their money where their mouths are. There are plenty of child sponsorship programmes out there begging for donors. It may not seem like it will make any difference just sponsoring one child - but it does. If everyone here could tell their friends too there would be 100's of children living better lives.
It is for families to protect children, not some "paternalistic" super state and its institutions.
In behaving like parents towards adults, these institutions are encouraging the adults to be as responsible as children.
Those who advocate the responsibility being given over to an institution (whether national or supranational) do not deserve to BE parents (as they are behaving as little more than breeder-units, and thus are failing to fulfil the mandate nature grants them as adults and parents).
How much of the poverty is created by international trade (read "exploitation of countries that we ravaged as colonies"), and the irresponsibility bred by nannying?
Dileep Wijeratne, Leeds, UK
Hand-wringing and mud-slinging do not a solution make. Help alleviate poverty - buy Fairtrade, check manufacturing sources, opt for ethical fund investments, choose sustainable tourism. If we all make a very tiny difference eventually it will make a huge difference.
The world knows the problems of children, their needs and rights. Why waste time and money sitting in conferences or summits for that matter? How can they meet in New York to discuss the problems of Africa? The participants do not even know what is happening in Africa. Let us act to safeguard the many suffering children.
Jackson K. George Jr, Liberian/Minnesota U.S.A
War is caused by greed. As the protesters of the World Bank and OXFAM stated, by just raising the Third world countries participation in the world trade market by 1%, it would be enough to lift them out of poverty. If people were not forced into desperation by starvation we might have prevented fanatical terrorist attacks around the world.
If there is one lesson we all can learn from our history is that sharing, fairness, and respect are the way to peace. I believe the right people need to talk to the right people in order to make things happen for the good of all. Let's build bridges instead of walls. Mankind can only succeed as the human race if we act humanely towards one another. Now is the time to help our brothers and sisters all over the world, for our children's sake.
Well, I think we hear too much about children's rights. What about Pensioners rights?
UN related? Who has any faith in the UN? How can they protect the children? They have shown that generally they are an ineffective organisation that are slaves to the U.S They couldn't protect the children in Bosnia, Iran, Palestine, so why are they wasting more money on conferences?
We all know that the arms industry is big business. Laws should be in place so that the export of arms to countries be always transparent. When arms fall into wrong hands, they are bound to affect children. It is mere hypocrisy when arms manufacturers send arms to countries only to turn around and give aid to refugees of armed conflict.
Aman Khan, UK
Let's start then with the US signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In Afghanistan, my homeland, children are born and caught in the West's Cold War. The supposed civilized world has not acted to stop such exploitation of children in underdeveloped nations. On the contrary, the problems faced by children and people in underdeveloped nations is directly linked to the west's insatiable desire to turn underdeveloped nations into battlefields and to usurp the world resources to live the good life. Children in underdeveloped regions of our world are used as labour to harvest the West's need for resources to fuel their conspicuous consumption.
I think it disgusting that the USA should host such an event after bombing children and their homes only a few months ago in Afghanistan (all officially denied at the time). It makes a mockery of the summit and children around the world. Or are only talking about protecting western children so that the big multinational companies can abuse them?
The international community is definitely failing to protect the Afghan children. In the past we watched that most of the Afghan children learned nothing than to fire with a gun. Isn't it a failure? The international community must hurry in protecting them by investigating more and providing the most they can. Ten per cent of the children cannot attend school due to poverty. The next thing is that there are only limited schools in certain provinces of Afghanistan even there are one or two. Apart from school there are other lacks for children as well as food shortages, study needs.
Schoolteachers are also not paid enough. Protecting children from the horrors of war can diminish by paying enough money to the teachers. School is the best means for children. I've myself seen most of the children aged 10-12 going to war. However, I express my deepest gratitude to the international community for their recent developments to protect the Afghan children. To be very open, Afghans cannot feed their children-how could they educate them and how couldn't they abuse them. They use their children by any means, in order to build up their economy.
Kumar Visakulan, Australia
About the only thing that seems to have come out of these things is that the UK does away with a little bit more of its military capabilities. First landmines (which do have valid uses) and now "child" soldiers (17 year olds who are all volunteers).
All the dictators and warlords carry on killing as usual.
Peter, UK, if 17 year old soldiers (yes, 17 is still far too young to be put into that kind of situation, volunteer or not) and landmines are part of the UK's military capabilities then the UK's military capabilities need to be reduced. When the matter of what the military wants is counted as more important than what civilians need, freedom is severely compromised.
Jon, Morristown NJ, USA
I believe the main cause of war in developing countries is poverty. Eradication of poverty will save our children. Leaders of the world should spend time energy and money on economic development instead of wasting them on meetings.
facts - in the
last two decades the politicians in
have become puppets
on a string and the
strings are held by
Unless we free them
from those strings,
we have very little
chance to help the
Coming from a war torn country myself I feel deep compassion for all suffering children in the world. I have not experienced such horror personally, but I carry with me the burden of my family and country people's sorrow and loss.
I think that the reason we let our children suffer like this is due to our lack of love for our environment and the people around us. We humans still fail to see that harming our environment eventually will destroy us, as it is killing our true purpose for life, existence. We are overpowered by young souls that do not realize that ultimately we are all ONE.
Henry, WPG, Canada
My hope is that one day children, no matter where they live or what colour, religion, or politics their parents have, that these children can have a chance at security, education, healthcare and time to play. Most nations can ignore social responsibility since their legislatures are insulated by the money of those who would take advantage of those same children through exploitation of the resources of those poorer nations.
Having worked in Central America during the war in the 80s and 90s and more recently in Colombia, Ayacucho in Peru (home of the Shining Path Guerillas), Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Post-referendum East Timor, I have witnessed the results of war on children. Most of my work was with the Salesian Fathers whose primary dedication to children. They serve children in 130+ countries around the world. My experience with children - victims and witnesses to torture, death and assassination, terror campaigns, oppression, lack of basic needs, and psychic trauma - begins with my time a soldier in Vietnam. Since then, working as a volunteer for UNICEF while in the university after the war and working with international social workers who were sponsored each year at the UN by UNICEF for an arrival program for an international exchange for seven years before my work with the Salesian, I have been aware of and tried to do something, even though small, about the needs of children. Any voice that can be heard should be heard. The children need to have advocates. They cannot stir the world from their diapers, rags, and desolation.
M. Moktan, Canada
Where have all the children gone, I say to search for light to lead us out of
darkness. Let's face facts, that in the last two decades the politicians in
powerful nations have become puppets on a string and the
strings are held by the multinationals.
Unless we free them from those strings,
we have very little chance to help the
In my opinion there are two main reasons of suffering children.
1- If the UN performs its duties the way it was made for, and doesn't follow US instructions in making its decisions. At the moment the UN is behaving like a slave of US. If the UN had been working impartially then the millions of children in Iraq would have not been died, Kashmir and Palestinian issues would have been solved, and massacres in the Kosovo and Jenin Camps would have never happened.
2- If richer countries leave the policy of making poor nations poorer by giving loans at high interest rates. At the moment these poor nations spend most of the money in paying interests only and they have got nothing to spend to provide better education and food and better health facilities to children.
The children of the world have fewer rights and protection then most animals; they have no money or political clout.
Very unfortunate indeed. We even see some leaders who have used children in their bush war now talking for children in the United Nation. Shame! The UN must isolate any one or groups even the governments that use children in conflict.
All violence is stupid, no matter who wields it or under what insane pretext. Lamentably, we humans are a stupid and cunning animal with scattered lightnings of intelligence.
It is sad that we need, as a species, to call a special conference to protect our children. May they succeed in pacifying the world so we can get on with life.
However the centre is having a unique and positive affect on the region. The centre is unique because it works with children from all sides of the conflict, side by side. This teaches the generation that should be most affected by the conflict, tolerance and understanding. The centre is a one-room classroom and enjoys the support of all sides of the community, so it is also helping to bring together the older generations of the community. So a large part of the solution to the problem is simply education and ensuring that the after affects of the war on the children is minimised to avoid future conflicts.
Unfortunately I can not see a world free of conflict, so I think we should do as much as we can to reduce the risk of injury to children. The two things I would like seen done are: 1. Cluster bombs should be painted a different colour to the food packages dropped by the UN and Nato. Children who cannot read English have mistaken one for the other. 2. It is not a huge technical feat to limit the time a mine will remain active for. A mine could be made to disarm itself after a set time. This could be days, weeks or months.
During the second world war, children were evacuated on mass away from the dangers of war. This was not for a week at a time but for months and years at a time. I know this can not be done in a lot of conflicts, but why is it not even attempted in conflicts in which organisations such as the UN or the Red Cross have roles to play. It must be better for the children to be evacuated to a place of safety rather than risk being injured or killed.
I always find it amazing that the Heads of States can gather to discuss how to protect children from warfare, they would be better of going home and caring for their country and people and not getting involved in any wars in the first place. Most of these conflicts anyway seem to be caused by religion, perhaps all people should reread the ten commandments and try living by them.
Wouldn't it be nice if all people could be protected from war.
David Szondy, USA (British) sums it up brilliantly!
It depends on who "we" are. If you mean the West, that hated collection of callous imperialists who insist that war be left to the professionals, that it be kept far from our borders and that our children be allowed to live in peace and prosperit- that is one thing. On the other hand, if you're some progressive, forward-thinking third world dictator who believes that children are good cannon fodder, cheap mine sweepers, suicide bombers in training and an excellent place to hide behind while you bleed your people white to further your evil plans, that is another. Frankly, the best way to protect children from war is to choose civilisation over barbarism.
In my opinion, the world has very tentative understanding of what causes warfare and how to prevent it. As best I can tell, the only way to resolve wars is for one side to capitulate before casualties become overwhelming. One example of such a decision is the ending of the Cold War by Russia - they just gave up without attacking America. Unbelievable - yet so inspiring.
I cannot imagine how a war could happen in a geographical area without affecting the local children. Even if the children are not harmed physically, they still experience loss of relatives, propaganda, etc.
Bob, Dallas, USA
Children will always be at war. Apart from conventional wars they will be at war against poverty, domestic abuse, sexual and physical abuse. As much as children should be protected from war they should also be safeguarded against other types of abuse which claim as many lives of children as do wars. Many children from third world countries like Sri Lanka are used by terrorist groups as cannon fodder as they are easily expendable but even in the safe havens of the West the children may not succumb to a landmine or a bomb but they are victims of child sex abuse, domestic violence, and abject poverty. All these facts should be taken in to consideration when talking about safeguarding children
There is one thing many people in the west who have grown up in secure homes never fully understand: why a child can never be a child in most of the 3rd world. Those who really wish to help these children have to fight what Willy Brandt called the blood transfusion from the poor to the rich (the interest paid for loans form the rich countries). One has to fight the unfair trade between the rich nations and the poor nations. But the chances that someone in the West is really ready to do something with these issues are zero. Poverty will continue and aid will not solve the 3rd worlds problems.
S Watkins, Fort Worth, Texas, USA
The global exploitation of children is the starting link in a chain leading to all the world's evils. Unfortunately this chain is cyclic. If we want to prevent future wars then we have to prevent children from being exposed to current wars. Ultimately this can only be achieved through self-discipline.
A paramount issue that must also be resolved at the UN is the problem of illicit drugs. Children are much more prone to the dangers of drugs than adults, since children have impressionable minds and also a rebellious streak. Due to the extremely high level of demand for drugs, it is impossible to eliminate the supply and distribution. The UN and other intergovernmental organisations will never be able to curtail the proliferation of illicit drugs because of the very fact that the drugs are illicit. The only way to solve the drugs problem is to legalise all drugs, tax them, and have all the tax contributions going towards fully educating children about the problems of drugs and also treating addicts. Only then can the suffering of millions of children per year be either prevented or relieved.
To Jon, Morristown NJ, if you believe that the USA is protecting children from the horrors of war then how many innocent children do you imagine were killed by the US bombings of Afghanistan? As long as we continue to believe might and two wrongs make a right, the most vulnerable in our society will always suffer.
How can we sit idly by while there are millions of children being exploited by corrupt regimes all around the world? For too long we have fooled ourselves into thinking that developing countries are capable of sustained development on their own. More nation building will be needed if we are serious about saving the children.
I grew up in a society where I saw children working like machines at garages, hotels, cleaning houses etc. They are forced to do this because of the poverty in their life that does not give them an adequate living standard. The only option to get money for them is taking part in small gangs. This is what people see with their naked eyes but no one is addressing this issue. The only way we can protect them is "protect them from POVERTY".
For heaven's sake why should man create war that will inflict casualties on non military personnel - civilians of whom innocent kids are killed? This dehumanizing and degrading act has to stop. Kids are the future of the universe, what they see is what they will perpetuate in adult age. Politicians struggling to win over others for power and money should siphon their energy into other less war demanding issues than war. God bless the children of the world.
Chris B, Bedford, England
To protect children from the horrors of war is not to fight a war. But as long as there are gun manufacturers, greedy business men and women who think their goods must be sold at what ever cost, and there are those politicians who believe that they have divine right to rule and must do so by any means necessary there is always going to be war. Our attitude towards children will have to change also. In many of our societies children are just pawns in our political game, they are there to be seen and not be heard.
As long as this remains the rule rather than the exception we can always expect our children to be at the forefront of battles. Until greedy parents stop pushing their children for gold and the tool to mine the gold is the gun. Children will always be at the forefront of wars. Until the reason those greedy parents send their children into the goldmine in a landmine is extinct, the children will always be the grand price of war. Until nations stop praying to the God of hate and stop kneeling at the alter of revenge children will always be the victims of the horrors of war.
War is total and brutal. Waging war and at the same time hoping to protect women and children, the weak, the old and the non-combatants is plain hypocrisy. If the G7 and one or two countries stop exporting arms, including mines and torture instruments, a lot of women and children will indeed be very much safer.
Yes, my government has been able to protect its children from war. Have other leaders around the world been able to do this, no. We all have responsibilities to our children and it seems that there are leaders and groups in the world who don't see this as a priority. Infact, there seems to be a pattern of using human shields (women and children i.e. Jenin) in conflicts today. After a fight they claim they are victims of a brutal slaughter, however, the blame lies with those who are hiding amongst women and children not the armies hunting them. Those fighters know they are putting their sons, mothers and daughters in harms way.
Smart bombs and GPS systems are attempts at keeping casualties down and accuracy up. What more can we do for the children whose leaders are willing to sacrifice them for a fleeting cause.
To Tamzin: Thanks for the kind words. I've never been close to a landmine victim; I had only to take the UN tour to see the devastation they cause. For those who have never been, I suggest you go; it's a real eye-opener. Reading about tragedy doesn't come close to seeing it.
To Jon, Morriston, NJ:
Your government has recently lowered the age when children can fight from 17 to 16 years old. Tell me more about protection of children?
Matthias Kulubya, Ugandan in London, UK
Enough?? Are we doing anything to protect them?
There's going to be so much hot air I don't think I can bear it. Whether you have a world super power dropping bombs on villages or warring tribes slaughtering each other, a conflict is a conflict and the innocent always get caught up in it. Maybe the talks should be on how to avoid wars in the first place.
Everyone must be on the same side in this Talking Point. No one could say 'Nah, why should we protect them?' or 'They are protected already.' However, how can the world just help children, without necessarily helping their families and older people? I imagine 'STOP! Children crossing!' signs across air strike zones or child locks on AK-47s. This problem is huge. I hope the leaders meeting have wisdom and commitment to solving as many of the problems as they can, whatever the cost to their home economies.
In my opinion, the question, which should be primarily asked here, is WHICH country's children are we talking about? Certainly not ''ours''!
Isn't it true that as long as these children come from some poor country, (preferably an Islamic one), far away from us, they are of lesser importance? Some people even manage to sleep peacefully at night...However, the same question WOULD be considered as ''a terrible tragedy'' if these children were ...British, American, or any other ''developed'' country's children! I call it ''developed'' hypocrisy and that is why I believe that our attitude to all children in the world must change. So must our policies and our education, which should function in such a way as to prevent some children from becoming victims of irrational wars, waged by irrational grown ups, who have the arrogance to ''play God'' and decide which country's children have more rights in life and which not!
In a war where children can lose limbs/lives or in a country where they are treated as slaves there is a risk that they would begin to view these terrible tortures as the norm. The spiralling knock on effect is that these children are likely to grow numb to it all, and continue the chain of hatred as they go through life. Everyone knows that in war there are no winners, but sometimes there are bigger losers, in every case it is the children who will suffer the most. We should do everything in our mortal power to protect them.
We need more information before anything can be done. I guess we could start with sending in UN teams on fact finding missions. But they would probably end up being manipulated by the US and/or Israel of course.
Currently a very small number of people are being tried for crimes against humanity. If we are serious about protecting children, how about declairing arms vendors to be war criminals. When children are no longer supplied with AK47's or AR18's perhaps they will see less of war. When those who supply guns to children are locked up, perhaps the world will be a safer place. I know it will not stop war, but it might mitigate the harm by making war more risky for the profiteers.
The kids who end up armed have usually been kidnapped as well; they are not armed by their parents but by one of the factions that has taken them from home. They are often threatened with rape or murder if they refuse to fight. I think the easiest way we can help protect children now, IMMEDIATELY is by doing away with landmines. Sadly, my country did not ratify this treaty during the Clinton administration (because of Jesse Helms) and will not ratify it during the Bush administration (for obvious reasons).
As a former UN employee, I had the misfortune to live in Angola and I saw pictures of what landmines can do to children on their way to school or to play, long after the soldiers had left. Landmines can stay "alive'" 100 years (or more) after a war is over. They are now made in plastic so metal detectors cannot detect them. I have lived in Vietnam and have seen the problems this generation is still having from the aftermath of Agent Orange. I lived in Iran and saw the effects of bio weapons in the Iran/ Iraq conflict as I was living there at the time.
I am angry! I am angry because no amount of commissions and discussions are going to alleviate the problems of adults and children in war because the problem is the war itself. Cluster bombs, thermo baric bombs, DU bombs, etc. are all designed to kill and maim humans and cause limitless suffering to many. This doesn't even begin to cover the psychological trauma of the children in Afghanistan who continue to hear bombs dropping.
What can be done? Put arms dealers in prison and stop wars. How much do you think the Iraqi children will suffer when we start to bomb Iraq or how many more children will suffer that haven't already suffered? I cannot sleep easy at night knowing this. War is unacceptable! Bravo to Jennifer of USA on her views and I hope she and others can push forward an agenda to, at least, stop the manufacture of landmines (cluster bombs among them and others of the same nature) by their voices.
I think the only way to protect children from the horrors of war is stop war altogether, and we all know that that is not going to happen.
I suppose we could stop dropping bombs on them and selling arms to other countries that do the same, that might help.
Children have suffered a lot in wars throughout decades worldwide. The UN and international organizations should do more to protect and help children.
I would like to encourage the world powers to deal with the calamities that beset the poor children who live in some parts of this world we live in.
As leaders it is essential that we offer basic necessities such as food and medical care, but these children need love, they need volunteers who would take the orphans of war, famine, drought and any natural disaster to take them on their knee when they feel unsafe and to coax them back into feeling that there is hope for them, and that they are the ones who can make change possible.
First off, as a member of the Armed Services in the United States of America, I must say that we are trained to not inflict casualties upon civilians for any reason, other than in self defence. We are not senseless savages. As for the Euro Anti-American sentiment, it boggles my mind. We take the issues and the weight of events in the world on our shoulders, and when no help is offered, we go it alone. Things might not always work out the way EU wants it to, but we are there fighting to eliminate elements of the condition of the world that all its inhabitants wish to see gone. Freedom isn't free, it's paid in the blood, sweat, and tears of soldiers, be they American, or any nationality. This is about the suffering of children.
Barbarism can not be overlooked, and something must be done to stop it. America always attempts to give aid to countries, even those it does not help fight wars in. Why is this overlooked? Why are we painted to be some democratic monster just because we help nations in the world that other nations are not willing to extend a hand to? It is a good initiative that finally, someone starts thinking about easing the suffering of nations in tow of wars. Drop your political swords, stop scathing the US for being the frontrunners in the wars you later join, and do something productive. Don't blame all Americans for the choices that its government makes. It's the common man that bleeds, not the politician.
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