Intervention by H.E. Archbishop Renato R. Martino
Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Children
New York, 28 October 1999
As we meet here today, in approximately 50 countries around the world, children are suffering from the effects of conflict and its aftermath. Today, there are over 20 million children who have been displaced by war within and outside their countries. Some 300,000 young persons under the age of 18 are currently being exploited as child soldiers. Approximately 800 children are killed or maimed by landmines every month (Mr. Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (Statement to the Security Council on 25 August 1999).
In Angola, in Kosovo, in Colombia, and in many other places, we are witness to the criminal violation of child rights, including forced displacement, abduction, sexual abuse, conscription into military service, and the use of children as spies and human shields... the international community must loudly proclaim these violations of rights for what they are: intolerable and unacceptable (Carol Bellamy, Unicef Executive Director, Bogota on 30 April 1999).
The sale and/or trafficking of children is an activity not limited to commercial sexual exploitation. There is evidence to suggest a great demand for children as marketable commodities for purposes of adoption and labour (Ms. Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography to the 55th Session of the Commission on Human Rights, 15 April 1999).
These quotes from three internationally known sources on the rights and protection of children, indicate a very sad residue of a closing millennium and a tragic irony at the dawn of a new one. Did the international community, even just after a decade of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, fail the children of the world? A generation which is particularly keen on providing the children with the best of securities for their future, is facing a terrible setback in protecting the rights and future of children. Or did we loose the right perspective with regard to the springtime of life? In Mr. Otunnus statement, which I quoted earlier, he spoke of reinforcing traditional value systems. The Holy See welcomes that proposal fully. Respect for the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of the family, and the role of parents in the formation of children, are basic values. When these values are purposefully neglected, children will not enjoy the safety, security and care which are absolute conditions for their sound growth and development. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989, is, however, a solemn recognition by the international community of the above-mentioned values. Still, during this very decade, repeated attempts were made within the international community to overlook or even to tread on those values. When some Delegations insisted on the need for upholding those values, they were attacked as adversaries.
In his Message for the World Day of Peace of this year, Pope John Paul II wrote: I think with sorrow of those living and growing up against a background of war, of those who have known nothing but conflict and violence. Those who survive will carry the scars of this terrible experience for the rest of their lives. And what shall we say about children forced to fight? Can we ever accept that lives which are just beginning should be ruined in this way? Trained to kill and often compelled to do so, these children cannot fail to have serious problems in their future insertion into civil society. Their education is interrupted and their chances of employment are stifled: what a terrible legacy for their future! Children need peace; they have a right to it.
The abominable crimes committed against millions of children, born and unborn, confirm the fact that without respecting fundamental values, the family of nations will end by digging the graveyards for the future generations instead of securing for them a bright future.
The first step in the right direction will be to create an objective and solid international awareness on the dignity of the human person. Dignity and worth of the human person solemnly upheld in the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations and reaffirmed in the preamble of the Convention on the Rights of the Child must not become just a jargon for podiums but a fundamental principle for daily life. Only if scrupulous respect for that dignity and worth is deeply rooted in the hearts of each individual, of each society and each nation will the rights of the Child be protected world-wide. Love and care are the true expressions of that respect. Where love and care are denied, there respect for life is called into question and the result is violence. Love denied creates violence, and nothing, absolutely nothing, could replace the role of caring love.
Such a love and care is assured only in the context of the family. Destruction of the family and its inviolable structures will reflect on the future of children and of the youth. Take the children away from the ambient of a loving and caring family and, we are sure to witness a violent youth and an increase in juvenile criminality. If States are resolved to protect children, then the best way to do it is to strengthen the family. That is where the children belong, not in the battlefields or in the dark corners of drugs and violence. Many, who attempt to reduce the family into a mere relationship or to weaken it by false interpretations, are gravely endangering the future of the next generations.
Children need proper guidance, together with love and care. Parents are entrusted with the formation of their children. Their role is essential. It is at once a duty and a privilege. It is a duty they voluntarily assume as parents, and they will succeed in that duty only if they are prepared to accept it with dedication and generosity. It is a privilege in as much as they help form a new generation of dedicated men and women. An egoistic approach of parents to their children, neglect in their parental duties, or divided loyalties to which children are often times forced into, will reflect negatively in their future.
Twenty years ago, during the International Year of the Child in 1979, Pope John Paul II addressing the UN General Assembly said: In the presence of the representatives of so many nations of the world gathered here, I wish to express the joy that we all find in children, the springtime of life, the anticipation of the future history of each of our earthly homelands. No country, no political system can think of its own future otherwise than through the image of these new generations that will receive from their parents the manifold heritage of values, duties and aspirations of the nation to which they belong and of the whole human family.
Two decades after the International Year of the Child and almost one decade after the Convention on the Rights of the Child took effect, over 20 million children have become victims of armed conflict. Many more children suffer under extreme poverty or exploitation. Any delayed action from the international community to stop this grave crime, of omission and commission at once, is denying a future to those many millions. The international community, should condemn any attempt from any side to involve children in the armed conflicts, and express its resolve to protect them from the effects and aftereffects of such conflicts. It should also undertake concerted action to ensure them a better future. Prevention, protection and rehabilitation become urgently needed steps. In the rehabilitation process, special attention should be paid to healing and education. Not a single bud of life should be allowed to fade before it is even given the opportunity to fully blossom.
The Holy See shall continue to defend the dignity of every human person, safeguard the values of the family, and promote the role of parents in the formation of their children, because it is convinced that those values are fundamental to any sincere undertaking to protect children worldwide. The Holy See is equally committed to its bi-millenary tradition of service to the needy children in the world. The international community can indeed count on that continued commitment and cooperation wherever and whenever the above-said values are upheld and defended. Let me conclude by quoting Pope John Paul II: I renew my appeal to political and social leaders that, inspired by the principles of morality and law, they will do everything to prevent children from becoming participants in war, being forced to bear arms and kill their peers. If we want peace, let us teach peace to those who are being prepared to build the society of the future. (Regina Coeli on 6 April 1997).
Thank you Mr. Chairman.