Save our children: Universal Children’s Day 2019

Do children really need their own awareness day? The United Nations certainly think so, for the world does not belong to our children, although it should. Some thoughts contrary to the general trend.

Universal Children’s Day is observed by 145 nations. It is a day to promote the needs and rights of children. The United Nations observes this day on 20 November every year—this marks the day in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. “Do children have rights?” adults ask. “Sure we do,” the little one’s answer. “And why should we make people aware of this?” – “Because we don’t want you to forget that. Don’t forget: every ten seconds a child dies of hunger: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, dead.”

The right to a childhood

Which rights are we talking about here? There are several that make a big difference for children: the right to a childhood, for example. Although child labour has been outlawed, it has not yet been eliminated. Small hands that have to contribute to a family’s livelihood don’t have time for more important things, such as playing. In the third millennium, playing children must not become part of an anachronistic painting of a romanticised past. “Children in the museum” what a horrible idea! UNICEF estimates that ten per cent of the world’s children are still engaged in forced child labour—in underground copper mines, in textile factories that hardly deserve their name, and on cocoa plantations. Adults would be too expensive—and the customers in the buying countries are not prepared to pay more for the products. A vicious circle!

Another important right is the right to say no. Being able to say no contributes to people’s sense of identity and shapes their life. A child who only ever agrees to everything, has no opinion of her own. It is only through a clear no that a child becomes a personality. And such a no does not even need to be justified in order to be valid. No is no. Period. If you want to raise children to have a say in matters you must also allow them to have their say. A child that is allowed to say no, says yes to itself.

What children need

What children really need

  • are friends, advisors, and teachers who have time for them and listen to them.
  • are places where they are safe, where they are guaranteed peace and protection.
  • are dreams that become reality every now and then.

Children need people who want the best for them, who are generous without being arbitrary, who are interested in their world without constantly criticising it, and who can make themselves small enough to see through a child’s eyes. This is the only way that children’s rights actually become rights and not only obligations. Laws or official orders are not nearly enough to create rights for children.

Hands should bless and not fend off

Beware! Some cultures make a point of not taking into account children’s preferences and opinions. This also applies to many cultures in our time. Although we can read everything black on white, reality often looks quite different. Jesus Christ set the standard for the Christian creed: “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there” (Matthew 19: 13–15). This applies irrespective of people’s culture.

As long as children have to work in underground copper mines, we need make people aware of Universal Children’s Day. As long as there are grown-ups who sanction a no from a child’s mouth as cheesy or superfluous, we need to observe this awareness day.

From the Bible: Who is the greatest? (Matthew 18: 1–5):

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”

Photo: Susanne Dietmann / Kindermissionswerk

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Peter Johanning