Universal Children’s Day should prompt reflection on suffering of children

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Domestic violence and the concomitant suffering of chidren surely ranks as one of the greatest issues of abuse being confronted by young people in Australia.

By comparison with other countries, ours is fortunate to suffer reduced levels of problems related to malnutrition, health and welfare which can plague children in some other parts of the world.

A program launched last month aims to increase doctors’ skills to better identify and deal with often forgotten child victims of emotional and psychological trauma stemming from living in households dominated by tension and fear so that they may be referred to support agencies for necessary assistance.

Consideration of the issue should be a local part of marking Universal Children’s Day on 20 November.

When growing up, I occasionally lamented the lack of a special day for children while there were such occasions marking celebrations for mothers and fathers – and my parents would reply quickly that gifts and love shared at Christmas and birthday times dwarfed their important days in May and September.

They were right – and I remained unaware that a United Nations resolution in 1954 had set aside a focus on children to be held each November.

It was designed to promote worldwide fraternity and understanding between children and was further developed through the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and a convention on those rights 30 years later.

As our society has become less strict than it was in previous generations, criticism is expressed over these moves which were seen as promoting a further loosening of attempts to control the behaviour of young people.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said: “The one thing all children have in common is their rights. Every child has the right to survive and thrive, to be educated, to be free from violence and abuse, to participate and to be heard”.

This year the UN is calling for primary education to be available to every child – something that’s largely taken for granted in this country.

One day last month was dedicated by that organisation to pressing for hands to be washed in a bid to lift levels of cleanliness and there were calls for improvements to be made in water and sanitation systems in those nations where reduced levels of hygiene were putting lives at risk, especially among the young. Brighter news came from a UN agency which reported that the incidence of children contracting polio was at its lowest point since international measurement was developed but it’s not been eradicated, which is the target of their observers.

Again, I was taken back to a childhood where vaccination against the disease meant it was disappearing, but young victims could still be seen battling its effects.

Poverty remains a major problem globally. Estimates are that even in Australia at least half a million children live in households where incomes are below the poverty line.

Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke regrets having claimed in 1987 that no Australian child would live in poverty by the year 1990.

The statement was what he called a “shorthand” variation of his prepared election campaign speech, carrying the line: “No Australian child need live in poverty.”

Refugees were part of growing up in my primary school days, coming from parts of Europe battling wartime devastation. Children today continue to be refugees .

Sexual abuse also has been widespread against children, including those in Australia. Commenting last month on the continuing Royal Commission, Francis Sullivan of the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council said it had “looked into most corners of the community and it has revealed appalling behaviour in many of our most respected organisations”.

These on-going problems beg prayerful intercession for young people who most of us celebrate and nurture through what we say are the best years of their lives.

Universal Children’s Day should stimulate reflection on children suffering within troubled homes, and even more in troubled nations.