Children are at risk in every part of the world today. They are at risk because of their special vulnerability as children and because the "natural" urge of most adults to protect and care for children falls far short of ensuring their protection and care. Children are particularly at risk when they are separated from their parents and families due to war, poverty, and oppression, or when their caregivers have themselves become their exploiters and persecutors. According to UNICEF's most recent State of the World's Children report, an estimated twenty-seven thousand children under five died of preventable causes per day in 2001. Jo Becker, Director of Human Rights Watch, states that "children are at risk of violence in nearly every aspect of their lives--in their schools, on the street, at work, in institutions, and in areas of armed conflict. They are beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted, and murdered, often by the very individuals responsible for their care and safety." (1)
The community and the state have often been reluctant to intervene to protect children. Paternalistic concepts of children as property--chattels of their parents, or extensions of their parents--rather than as persons in their own right are deeply ingrained. The recognized need to protect the private sphere of personal and family relations from undue state interference is another barrier. But gradually we have come to recognize basic human rights of all children and to enshrine these rights in international treaties and conventions, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most widely ratified of international human rights conventions. (2)
Almost all children have some ability to express their needs, from the infant crying to express hunger or cold, to the nine-year-old refugee from Sierra Leone who approaches a Guinean woman and asks her to take him with her because he has no one else to care for him, or the teenage refugee in Canada who recognizes the injustice and humiliation of being a "brown-paper" person because of her lack of immigration status. But having a voice is one thing, having the power to escape from oppression and persecution is another. Children lack power in our society and are therefore dependent upon adults to recognize their needs and act to ensure their care and development, as well as their safety and protection.
In this issue of Refuge we have an opportunity to examine what is happening in different parts of the world...