By Robin Gomes
The Holy See is decrying the violence and rights abuse that children suffer in various ways in conflict situations and is urging the international community to increase efforts especially to release child soldiers and help the reintegration of young victims of other grave violations.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York, made the appeal on Friday at a Security Council open debate on children in armed conflict.
Out of school
He lamented that children who should be free to learn and to play as they grow in knowledge, are instead the victims of grave violations that not only rob them of the unique and irreplaceable joys of childhood but also run the risk of causing long-term physical, emotional, psychological and social damage.
In parts of Africa, he pointed out, many children and youth give up schools to work in mines. Worse still, children are forced to fight in wars or recruited under the guise of being able to provide for their impoverished families.
The Filipino archbishop pointed out that socio-economic disadvantages and lack of prospects too often make armed conflict an alternative for young people. In some cases, children are radicalized into embracing nefarious causes that make them the cause of destruction and despair in the lives of so many others.
Women as educators to peace
“Education to peace in the family and in schools and the crucial role of women as ‘teachers of peace,’ the archbishop said, “are indispensable to confront these root causes.”
The Holy See diplomat said that targeting of schools, medical centres and shelters during conflicts are against international law and international humanitarian law and hence must stop. In this regard, he recalled Pope Francis’s concern for children caught up in bombings in Idlib, Syria.
The Holy See official commended the efforts of the UN Peacekeeping Operations and members states regarding safeguarding children, especially in armed conflict.
He said the UN debate must contribute to awakening the collective conscience of the international community to ensure that these often “invisible children” are not forgotten.
He called for increased efforts for the release of child soldiers, and that the young victims of other grave violations are given the support they need for reintegration.
Such support, he said, must include the most vulnerable, including those children conceived and brought into the world as a result of conflict-related sexual violence.
“Children in those circumstances have no less dignity and similarly must be protected from violence and death,” Archbishop Auza added.