Growing Pains, Halting Progress, and Hope
The Years 2001 through 2010 were named by the United Nations as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World. Sadly, the decade ended with more wars raging than when it began. 2001 was the year of the September 11 events. It was also the year of Security Council Resolution 1325 (On Women, Peace and Security), which recognizes our right to shape the solutions to conflict as well as our right to safety.
That same dual focus characterizes the earlier international agreements on children. Since women and children have been both abused and suppressed in the name of protection through the ages,
I find it wonderful that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child upholds the child’s right to participate fully in family, cultural, and social life as well as the right to care, education, health, and safety. Article 12 specifies the child’s right to a voice:
“Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child … The child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child…”
The growing use of human rights curricula in schools and informal educational settings around the world is evidence of the culture change the Convention has promoted. We know we can count on the rising generation to advocate for themselves as well as for women and the earth. The website of the India-based organization Working Child, an official nominee for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, offers stories of young activists like the children of Mongolia, which has the largest number of child-governed organizations participating in local and national governance anywhere in the world.
Does Size Matter?
The plight of child soldiers seems to especially grip the imaginations of young and old alike. Warlord Charles Taylor’s recent conviction and the controversy over Joseph Kony 2012 have both brought the issue back into the headlines. According to Child Soldiers International, “The use of children as soldiers has been universally condemned as abhorrent and unacceptable. Yet over the last ten years hundreds of thousands of children have fought and died in conflicts around the world.” War Child sums up that universal abhorrence with a tidy tagline: “Child soldier. Some words don’t belong together.”
The United Nations estimates that 300,000 children and teens under 18 are currently engaged in warfare. That’s clearly appalling. I worry, though, that those who want to rescue child soldiers seem to tacitly accept the propriety of killing and dying on the other side of the 18th birthday.
The subtitle Kurt Vonnegut chose for Slaughterhouse Five, his slight, quirky novel about the WW II bombing of Dresden, is The Children’s Crusade. He notes that all wars are essentially children’s crusades because they send people out to kill and die before they’re fully mature. Our own US military conducts extensive recruitment in high schools. The latest brain research confirms Vonnegut’s intuition. Mature judgment isn’t in place until 25 or even 30, science now shows, and militaries everywhere exploit this delay.
Someone (undoubtedly a woman) once said “It’ll be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the navy has to hold a bake sale to build a battleship.” I’m dreaming even bigger than Ms. Anonymous. In a world where every nation both ratified the Convention and fully honored all 54 of its articles, we wouldn’t have battles or battleships. We’d have radically, joyously different global priorities: politics and economics as if people mattered.
Isn’t that want YOU want for Mothers Day?
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