Progress for the world’s children has left out the young victims of war, conflict, and poverty, the Holy See has told the United Nations.
“The dramatic progress made in the reductions in child mortality and increased access to schooling and safe drinking water must strengthen our resolve to bring similar progress to areas in which millions of children still suffer extraordinary indignities each day,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the U.N., said Oct. 13.
“Millions more children are caught in situations of conflict, trapped in situations of extreme poverty or live in areas of extreme environmental vulnerability. These harrowing situations of children remind us to commit ourselves to fighting the root causes of their sufferings,” the nuncio said in an intervention before a committee of the U.N. General Assembly on the promotion and protection of the rights of children.
“The Holy See notes with particular sadness that the primary cause of today’s mass displacements of populations is man-made: namely, wars and conflicts,” he continued.
Of the 50 million children who have been displaced from their homes, 28 million have been displaced by conflict. Children make up as much as 40 percent of some conflicts’ victims.
“Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such violent brutality: children used as soldiers, suicide bombers, sex slaves, and disposable intelligence-gatherers in the most dangerous military operations,” Archbishop Auza said. “The deliberate destruction of their schools and hospitals in total disregard of international humanitarian law has become a strategy of war.”
The nuncio stressed the global responsibility to help these children: “Since human choices provoke conflicts and wars, it is well within our power and responsibility to address the conflicts and wars that drive millions to become refugees, forced migrants and internally displaced persons, including millions of children.”
The archbishop said the Holy See has made pleas for a common commitment from individual governments and the international community to bring an end to violence, conflict, and hatred.
“While we wait for an end to these conflicts, it is nevertheless urgent to collaborate to alleviate the sufferings of children caught in the snares,” he said.
At the same time, Archbishop Auza found encouragement in research that showed a more than 50 percent reduction in the rate of child mortality under five.
“In the last 15 years, all regions in the world registered major progress in child survival rates. These improvements were particularly significant in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.
Maternal mortality has also undergone significant reduction, decreasing by 43 percent.
“School enrollment, access to safe water and a number of other vital and social indicators also showed steady progress. While these advances happened in a variety of contexts, indicating that progress can be achieved in highly differentiated economic, social and political environments, they were even more impressive in some of the world’s poorest countries,” he said.
At the same time, 16,000 children die every day, often from preventable or treatable causes. Half of the deaths of children under five years old are due to malnutrition and under-nourishment. The existence of about 33 percent of the world’s children are not officially recorded, depriving them of an official nationality and name. Millions of children are infected with HIV; about one third of women aged 20-24 were child brides; and violence against girls is a major problem, according to the archbishop.
“The grave humanitarian crises in many regions of the world have exacerbated this already disheartening picture,” Archbishop Auza said. “Fifty million children around the world are on the move. They are running from conflict, extreme poverty and various forms of abuse and exploitation.”
The numbers of child refugees have increased dramatically. As many as 90,000 unaccompanied children were detained at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, a major jump over previous years.
The migrant and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea was shown in one two-day period this year when 10,000 people were rescued from sinking boats. Of these, 20-40 percent were unaccompanied children.
Refugee and migrant children, especially when unaccompanied, face dangers like human traffickers and other forms of exploitation.
“When a boat sinks, they are the most likely to drown. They are the first ones to suffer hunger and thirst. They are the most vulnerable to extreme weather as they move through deserts and forests,” said the archbishop.
These children need protection and are entitled to the rights guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he added, stressing the urgent need to ensure measures and policies are in place wherever these children may be found.
The nuncio also spoke of other the violations of childrens’ rights, like child labor. He cited Pope Francis’ appeal to the world to renew its efforts “to remove this cause of modern slavery, which deprives millions of children of some fundamental rights and exposes them to serious dangers.”