Becoming a Voice for Children

“Man is free but everywhere he is in chains”.

This is the memorable quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the eighteenth century. We have come a long way since then. But something very similar might be said about children in today’s world. Children are born with potential and freedom. Yet, very often this potential is denied and their freedom is abused. In our world children are often beaten, abused, raped, exploited, tortured, and traumatised. Children are at risk because of poverty, discrimination, lack of access to education, and war.

In our world children are among the most vulnerable groups in society. We live in a society where children are cherished and provided with a safe environment. Yet, even in the affluent societies of the West, many children are deprived of their childhood, go hungry or are abused by adults. Many children do not have access to education. Children are born with potential, a potential which is often denied by society and the adult world.

When we see the smiling, cheerful faces of children on the TV or in our school playgrounds, are we aware of other young people for whom life is terrifying, death-dealing, and extremely cruel. Some statistics can sketch the picture:

Children living in poverty 1 billion (Source: UNICEF)
Children who die before 5 years of age each day 29,158 (Source: UNICEF)
Children orphaned by HIV/AIDS 15 million (Source: UNICEF)
Children killed in conflicts since 1990 1.6 million (Source: UNICEF)
Children forced to work through poverty 250 million (Source: World Vision)
Children trafficked in the sex industry 1 million (Source: World Vision)

These statistics are stark. They tell a story of the children and young people of our world who each day are denied life and flourishing by a cruel adult world. Children do not go to war, adults do. But it is the children who pay the price. In Uganda, Burma, Sudan, over 300, 000 children are forced to fight adult wars. Currently, in Africa alone, there are more than 120, 000 child soldiers involved in conflict. In Sierra Leone the Christian Brothers and lay colleagues are directly involved on a daily basis with the rehabilitation of former child soldiers.

Children do not cause poverty. But they are born poor or become poor because of the actions of adults. Similarly, it is adults to exploit children in the cruel and rapacious sex industry. To be a child in today’s world is to be vulnerable and exploited.

The Edmund Rice story is about care and compassion for children. We who live from and by this story cannot ignore the plight of children in our world. We must lift our eyes above the parapet and take ourselves beyond the comfort zones of our own situation to confront the exploitation of children.

This is an unfolding story of desolation and trauma. We must find ways to tell an alternative story of compassion and care for the world’s children. We must also find ways to be a voice for children through advocacy. As Edmund Rice did in his day.