Defending the Right to be Heard

youth dayEarlier this year I felt the excitement, anxiety and anticipation that fills one at the prospect of the birth of a new family member.   William was born October 23rd amidst great relief and celebrations.   The whole family wanted to personally welcome its newest member into the fold.  The season of Advent /Christmas is upon us, which evokes a similar sense of anticipation and excitement at the prospect of a birth of a baby, whose birth-day is celebrated December 25.   A child who would grow to be a defender of the rights of those made poor by the oppressive system of his times; a system that rewarded those born into powerful and privilege.  The enjoyment of human rights was more about one’s parentage than about being born into a just and compassionate community that ensured the inclusion of all as equals.

Will Christmas this year be a celebration of new life through guaranteeing the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms for all, especially children?

A message from the children who attended the World Children’s Forum (‘A World fit for Children’ UN 11 October 2002):

We are not the sources of problems; we are the resources that are needed to solve them.  We are not expenses; we are investments.  We are not just young people; we are people and citizens of this world.

They go on to say:

Together we will build a world in which all girls and boys can enjoy childhood – a time of play and learning, in which we are loved, respected and cherished, our rights are promoted and protected, without discrimination of any kind…

These statements come from children who are the ‘100% stakeholders of the future’.   ‘Tomorrow’s citizens’ now number 2.2 billion with 18% aged 10-19 years.  Yet one billion of them are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and wholesome development.  There are 215 million engaged in child labor, 101 million do not attend school and 51 million are unregistered at birth.  This current reality looks a lot like the world that was challenged by the young man from Nazareth who dared to be a human rights defender in his time in history.

Edmund Rice International (ERI) Geneva, along with its advocacy coordinators across 30 countries, is a defender of human and child rights today. ERI promotes the ‘best interests of child’ as the determining principle on which governments and institutions can be held accountable for their treatment of children.  As set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have a right to be heard and listened to in all matters affecting their well-being.  They have a right to social inclusion no matter their race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property disability, birth or other status.  Being born into a materially poor family must not mean exploitation, food insecurity, child labor and trafficking.

Perhaps the gift we give this Christmas will be to spend a few moments reflecting on how children’s voices can be better heard in the conversations of school, business and government boards especially in matters that affect them.

As the young people in Peru said in 2010 to their business leaders:

Do not take advantage of us, we ask you to be responsible. Do not support us because you pity us; instead support us because we deserve it.  We purchase your products and services, but we ask you to invest in our development.  We do not want gifts; we want you  to be responsible.

 Invite them into your heart this Christmas!

Peter Harney cfc


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