In the week before Universal Children’s Day, the Holy Father said: “It is everyone’s duty to protect children…I hope the international community shall be vigilant over the living conditions of children, I also hope the international community will help families ensure every child the right to schooling and a wholesome upbringing.” He said all children must be protected from abuse in all its forms “particularly from the shackles of slavery and the brutality of forced military service.”
The UN International Convention for Children’s Rights was approved on November 20th 1989. However, “The world remains a deeply unfair place for the poorest and most disadvantaged children despite major advances…
“In just over a generation, the world has cut child death rates by half, put over 90 per cent of children in primary school, and increased by 2.6 billion the number of people with access to safe water,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
“Yet children make up almost half of the world’s poor, nearly 250 million children live in conflict-torn countries, and over 200,000 have risked their lives this year seeking refuge in Europe.”
The Holy Father will visit Kenya and Uganda next week and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) are bringing stories of refugees to his attention – allowing their voices to be heard as they call on the Church to drive the world forward into a more peaceful and inclusive future.
They have crossed manmade borders of Uganda and Kenya where they seek, not only their rights to protection, but also spiritual guidance, opportunities to learn and grow as well as recognition from their host communities. More than anything, they look forward to the day when they can return home after the present destruction in their home countries of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and South Sudan ceases.
Two refugee teenagers, Mary Angel and Christian, appeal to Pope Francis.
Mary Angel lives at the Jesuit Refugee Service Safe Haven in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya. There women, girls and young children who have survived sexual and gender-based violence receive protection, education and livelihood training.
“I lost both of my lovely parents to war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When I left home, I traveled to Kenya in the back of a petrol truck by myself. The driver was a kind man and took me free of charge. I try to be brave by remaining strong in my faith.
“I finished primary school, and now I'm in secondary school in the camp. I need to study to become someone in the future. I really like science, and I will become a gynecologist one day to help women with their health problems – women who've been affected by violence like me.”
Christian, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is studying English at the Jesuit Refugee Service centre in Kampala, Uganda.
“Before coming to Uganda, my life was better than it is today. When I was a child I thought coming here would give me a better life, I didn't realise how difficult life would be.
“On the other hand, as a refugee in Uganda, I have received so much help from others. In my lifetime I must give back. I dream of becoming a physician and building a big hospital to treat patients for free. I also want to establish a centre for youth to develop their skills.”
Pope Francis has heard the calls of the marginalised and displaced worldwide. He has called on the Church and humanity at large to open their doors and their hearts to the plight of those who have suffered the most from conflicts driven by greed and injustice.
"The one thing all children have in common is their rights. Every child has the right to survive and thrive, to be educated, to be free from violence and abuse, to participate and to be heard." Ban Ki-moon.
Article compiled by IJM, 20th November 2015