Long suffer the children

Children dying for lack of food and water, children dying of disease for want of vaccines, children in brothels, children caught up in the horrors of war, children of a tender age being forced to work in abominable conditions, the victims of one of the most inhuman forms of exploitation of our age – it is the stuff of nightmares. A writer, former Euro MP and leading member of the Network for the Protection of the Rights of Children, Myrsini Zorba notes that «it’s 80 years since the first Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted at Geneva in 1924. After that, we’ve had another two conventions (those of the UN in 1959 and 1989). The last one, which is in force today, is of a binding legal character and has been signed by 192 countries, more than any other convention on human rights.» Damning data But she sadly observed: «And so what? Did exploitation of children cease? Illegal child labor? Abuse? Discrimination?» Incontrovertible official statistics, she said, «speak of 100 million children in the world who don’t go to school, of one in four children who live on under $1 a day, of 32 in 100 who are malnourished, 18 in 100 who don’t have clean drinking water, of thousands of children who are victims of war, who are refugees, migrants and victims of trafficking. This is the harsh, abhorrent reality on our planet today, and which no declaration has been able to change until now.» If all this applies chiefly to developing countries, «it only takes one look around us to ascertain the dismal conditions that do not reflect well on society, with children falling victim to gangs, abuse and exploitation, with children on the streets and others who leave school to work, with those who belong to vulnerable groups. Some are visible, some invisible, concealed in the darkness of institutions, asylum seekers’ camps, prisons and detention centers.» These children live alongside thousands of others whose living conditions have improved so impressively over the last few decades that they face wholly different problems, such as obesity or the dangers posed by the Internet and the mass media, Zorba said. The problems – old and new, global and local – seem endless and insoluble. But quietly, individually or in groups, people are seeking solutions. «In the last few years, non-governmental organizations have raised their profile in Greece, following modern activist logic and participating in European networks,» said Zorba. The Network for the Protection of the Rights of Children is one such NGO, she said. It operated informally for three years, spearheading the establishment of the Children’s Rights Ombudsman in Greece. Its members, including teachers, parents, children, academics and ordinary citizens, then took up political and practical aims. Network wants an equal voice for minors The Network for the Protection of Children’s Rights is equally convinced of the need for independent bodies and parallel action by civil society that would observe, evaluate and pressure for the adoption of measures and their enforcement. Today, it has the following priorities: 1) to disseminate, in Greece, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) to parents and children; 2) to draw up a plan of action on the rights of children in Greece through public debates involving all NGOs concerned with the the issue; 3) to set up an observatory on the rights of children that would gather complete statistics and carry out research on a regular basis; 4) to set up a pilot program supporting children who abandon their schooling in order to work; and 5) to undertake a series of actions to combat discrimination. With an eye on society’s real needs, and imbued with societal values and social solidarity, the network looks forward to a society where children will have an equal voice and position.