OPINION

The silent screams of children

An old song by Dionysis Savvopoulos recalls the nightmares that have scared so many generations of children, but his lyrics also bring to mind the very real nightmare experienced on a daily basis by so many children in this world, horror stories that only rarely have a happy ending. «Frightened and orphaned, in Smyrna and Venice, they are caught by the guards,» says Savvopoulos. Today, the frightened children being chased by «the guards» in cities and ports are young, unaccompanied, illegal migrants – their parents may have been lost on the journey or have sent the children out on their own, to fare as best they can far from the hell of their own countries. The young Afghans stranded at the port of Patras are just a recent, tragic example. Regardless of whatever strict «migrant policy» any given country adopts, the authorities have an obligation to provide minors with the very minimum of protection and living conditions. Instead, children often share the same cruel fate as adults – they are locked up in holding cells or squalid «migrant camps,» or even left to try their luck out on the streets, where they run immeasurable risks. There are other children, more fortunate, whose parents came to Greece, found jobs and settled here permanently. These children go to school, grow up among Greek children and speak Greek. But when they reach adulthood they too come to realize that this is not the place they can call home. They have no guarantees that they will be granted citizenship or even a residence permit, they become lost in the «haunted forest» of an irrational migrant policy, foreigners in the only land they know to call home. Then there are other children, those whose «haunted forests» are their own homes. Undoubtedly, it is best if children are raised by their biological parents, but they should not always be abandoned to their care. When children are abused, tortured by the very people whose duty it is to provide them with love and care, the sanctity of the family can no longer be considered. And intervention should not happen when it is too late, when the child ends up in the hospital, horribly abused, as was recently the case with a 7-year-old boy from Iraklion, Crete, a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of his father. Direct prevention mechanisms – the neighborhood, school, volunteer groups, judicial authorities and the police – are vital for children. «They asked the baker for some bread, and some water from the coffee man. The first chased them off with a shovel, and the other set his dog on them…» A society that does not heed children’s cries for help, even when their cries are silent, is a society that throws its heart into the dustbin.