-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
December 28th is the day on which the Catholic Church commemorates the massacre of innocent babies by King Herod who felt threatened by the birth of Jesus. The day is known as ‘Feast of the Holy Innocents’. This day is also a reminder to every Christian of her or his responsibility to protect and nurture every child of today.
Speaking to a large audience at St. Peter’s Square on Christmas Day, Pope Francis said, “My thoughts today go to all children who are abused and mistreated: those killed before they are born; those deprived of the generous love of their parents who are buried under a selfishness of a culture that does not love life; those children displaced by war and persecution, abused and exploited under our eyes and the silence that makes us accomplices.”
On December 16th the world was aghast when the Taliban attacked the school in Peshawar, Pakistan killing more than 130 children and again on December 23rd when the Bodo militants killed almost 80 tribals in Assam - many of them children. In the past, children were normally spared during a riot; however, the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 marked a departure from this when children also became victims of unmitigated violence.
India has the dubious distinction of being a country with the highest number of missing children; the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) states that approximately 370 children go missing daily in India and the Union Home Ministry reports that between 2011 and 2014, 3.25 lakh children went missing. Thanks to the efforts of committed organisations like the Bachpan Bachao Andolan founded by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, some children are traced and even rescued. But this is just a tiny drop in the ocean, in comparison to what remains to be done.
Despite denial by successive Governments, child labour is rampant all over the country. One sees little children working in brick-kilns, in the stone-cutting industry, in zari works and in the cotton fields. A recent report from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) says there are an estimated 60 million children working in India’s agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors.
Children are also the easiest victims of abuse: physical, sexual and emotional. It is alarming to note that at least 50% of India’s children are subjected to one or the other form of physical abuse and this percentage increases when it comes to sexual abuse. Pope Francis draws our attention to this painful reality when he prays, “May Jesus save the vast number of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers.”
Even those who are privileged to go to school often see their rights violated: like in Gujarat where they are subjected to textbooks containing content that is prejudiced and lacking in scientific temper and in some cases, blatant lies and myths. A child therefore grows up in an environment where she or he is denied the possibility of being open, tolerant and above all respectful to the other.
As adults of this world we need to respond to the cries of children all over. We need to respond to them with a heart full of compassion, tenderness and love and make every effort to help save the children of today.
28th December, 2014
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052