"They are like that. One must not hold it against them. Children should always show great forbearance towards grown up people."
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1944
by Aruna Gnanadason
Philippines © J. Maillard / ILO
It is not easy to write an editorial for this issue of Echoes, as the sounds of war deafen our ears. When I heard the news report of the death of two more children in war, this time in Afghanistan, I realised this editorial could not be what would normally be written for an issue of Echoes. I wondered to myself what goes on in the minds of millions of children all over the world as they live in daily contexts of violence or under the shadow of war. I wondered how they perceive our anxieties as adults as we reflect on the situation in our world. I decided therefore, to remind us of some of the questions that children should rightfully ask us at this time and reflected too on the ways in which we sometimes so carelessly (or perhaps helplessly) answer them.|
On their daily experiences of violence...
What shall we tell our children when they ask why everything in their world seems to be going wrong? Shall we tell them not to worry .that everything will be alright?
What shall we tell those children who live in a context of deprivation - daily worrying about food, clothing and shelter?
Shall we tell them, that this is life, and that they should thank God for the small blessings that they enjoy?
What shall we tell a child whose father has just been retrenched and whose mother's low paying job cannot get enough food on the table?
Shall we tell her to give up her education and look out for work?
What shall we tell the child who lives on the streets and lives dangerously, expecting police violence or other forms of violence every night?
Shall we tell him to be patient, and if he works hard and is not lazy, that he will have a change of luck?
What shall we tell a child who is lured into prostitution, is then trafficked from one country into another and who longs for her family and her childhood?
Shall we tell her to wait till she grows up, because then she can fight for her legal, economic and social rights?
What shall we tell a child who watches her mother being beaten by her father, or being driven out of their home in his drunken rage?
Shall we tell her not to take this seriously because there are much graver forms of violence in the world?
What shall we tell a child who sees her people being discriminated against because of their race, caste or colour, their Indigenous origins or their ethnic identity?
Shall we tell her to overlook such discrimination and hope that she will be one of the few lucky ones who make it in an unjust world?
What shall we tell our children who are sexually abused by someone they trust and look up to - a parent, a teacher, a care-giver or even a clergyman?
Shall we tell them not to exaggerate, or to remain silent, because no one will believe them anyway?
What shall we tell a child who is taught that her religion is the right way and that all others worship false Gods?
Shall we teach her to remember this always, and to grow up with a sense of arrogant triumphalism rather than with thankfulness for the rich plurality that God bestows on us?
What shall we tell the child who asks where all the clean air, the many diverse forms of fauna and flora, the sparkling streams, the sandy beaches and beautiful snow capped mountains are slowly disappearing to?
Shall we tell her not to care, but to continue to live life to the full, and watch silently as we extract more and more from the resources of the earth?
And under the shadow of war...
Children have the right to know - the world they live in today is theirs. We have a responsibility to offer them honest answers. But more than that, we have to put an end to all the violence, put an end to this war and all wars, without making any compromises. The children of the world deserve a safe world and a just future. Violence can never be the answer, it can never be the last resort. How can we strengthen the culture of peace with justice for the children of the world?