PROTECT MIGRANT CHILDREN – Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ
On January 9th 2017, in an address to the members of the Diplomatic Corps from 181 countries accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis said, “children and young people are the future; it is for them that we work and build. They cannot be selfishly overlooked or forgotten…I consider it a priority to protect children, whose innocence is often violated by exploitation, clandestine and slave labour, prostitution or the abuse of adults, criminals and dealers in death.” and further, “I think of the young people affected by the brutal conflict in Syria, deprived of the joys of childhood and youth, such as the ability to play games and to attend school”. His message was loud and clear, a necessary step for security and peace everywhere, is to invest in children and particularly those who are directly affected by the numerous wars and conflicts of our time.
Pope Francis has been consistent in his focus on the painful reality of migrant children. On January 15th 2017, the Catholic Church will once again observe the ‘World Day of Migrants and Refugees’ and in a hard-hitting message for the day on ‘Child Migrants, the Vulnerable and the Voiceless’ Pope Francis writes, “I feel compelled to draw attention to the reality of child migrants, especially the ones who are alone. In doing so I ask everyone to take care of the young, who in a threefold way are defenseless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves. I ask everyone to help those who, for various reasons, are forced to live far from their homeland and are separated from their families”.
There are today innumerable stories on the suffering of children who are in the midst of war or are fleeing war and persecution. From Syria to Myanmar; from Congo to Colombia; from Afghanistan to Sudan – the plight of migrant children labouring long hours in sweatshops; toiling in fields; begging on streets; or just left to the vagaries of hostile environments could make the coldest hearts thaw. The dead body of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian child, which was washed up on a beach in Turkey early in September 2015, will forever be etched in the memory and conscience of anyone who cares.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states that, “Over half of the world’s refugees are children. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment”. Pope Francis reiterates this situation in his message also emphasizing that these children are deprived “of rights intrinsic to childhood as sanctioned by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
Pope Francis calls upon the Christian community and the world at large to respond to the reality of the migrant children by working towards protection, integration and long-term solutions.
He highlights the importance to adopt “every possible measure to guarantee the protection and safety of child migrants, because these boys and girls often end up on the street abandoned to themselves and prey to unscrupulous exploiters who often transform them into the object of physical, moral and sexual violence.” He does not mince words when he says, “if more rigorous and effective action is not taken against those who profit from such abuse, we will not be able to stop the multiple forms of slavery where children are the victims”.
The integration of migrant children is also essential; to have adequate policies and also the necessary financial resources to ensure for their assistance and inclusion. All are aware of how several ‘host countries’ create all possible obstacles to deny refugee children with appropriate formal education, healthcare and even with much –needed recreational facilities.
Finally, Pope Francis makes “a heartfelt appeal that long-term solutions be sought and adopted. Since this is a complex phenomenon, the question of child migrants must be tackled at its source. Wars, human rights violations, corruption, poverty, environmental imbalance and disasters, are all causes of this problem… far-sighted perspectives are called for, capable of offering adequate programmes for areas struck by the worst injustice and instability, in order that access to authentic development can be guaranteed for all. This development should promote the good of boys and girls, who are humanity’s hope”.
A visionary but strong challenge indeed! The moot point, as we observe the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, is to ask ourselves and those in power, whether enough is being done for the voiceless, vulnerable and invisible child migrant of today? And if not, to get involved in more concerted action now!
10th January 2017 – Fr. Cedric Prakash
Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications.
Contact: [email protected] )
Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ
Advocacy & Communications
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) MENA Region
Rue de L’Universitie Saint-Joseph
Achrafieh 11002150 BEIRUT LEBANON
The full text of the Message of Pope Francis for World Day of Migrants and Refugees (January 15th 2017) can be found on https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20160908_world-migrants-day-2017.html