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Ending Violence Against Children on the Move

In October, the Seventh-day Adventist Church participated in a gathering of more than 80 faith-based non-governmental organizations in Rome, Italy, exploring ways to help the estimated 28 million vulnerable young people and children worldwide who are currently displaced from their homes by conflict, poverty, natural disasters, or migration.

Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church, was one of the organizers of the event, and he was asked to speak in the opening session and to outline a rationale for why faith groups should be involved in this global effort.

Below is the text of the speech Dr. Diop gave on October 16, 2018, to the Faith Action for Children on the Move Summit.

Ending Violence Against Children on the Move[1]

I deeply wish and pray that each one of us in this place fulfill the purpose or purposes for which we have been graced with the gift of life.

Why are we here? What motivates each one of us to be here?

We are here because we are moved at the core of our being as we witness in our day, the plight, predicament, suffering, and inhumane treatment of children and, in particular, children on the move. These are displaced children in a state of utter vulnerability, which make them prey to predators and traffickers, people who seem to have lost their humanity, people for whom life is not sacred or precious, people for whom the life and well-being of children can be instrumentalized with impunity.

The Intolerable facts:

In 2016 alone, 1 billion children around the world experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence. Globally, one in four children suffer physical abuse, one in five girls are sexually abused at least once in their lifetime, and more than 240 million children live in countries affected by conflict. (The Global Epidemic of Violence Against Children).[2]

Besides been killed, the evils children are subjected to range from abductions and sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography, forced labor, slavery, forced marriages, and physical abuses of all sorts. Humanitarian crises, key among which are forced displacements and migrations, exacerbated the toll of inhumane and degrading practices of violence against children.

Too many horrific crimes against children have been perpetrated in recent years. The Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal of organized child sexual abuse in the 1980s until 2010s is not out of memory. The enduring scars in the psyche of victims are still in need of healing. The non-ending uncovering of the crimes of predator-religious leaders add to the toll of inhumanity perpetrated by the very ones who are called to uphold the best in humanity. These crimes against children are in fact crimes against the whole human family. That is also why we are here from different backgrounds, from different religious and philosophical persuasions. Mobilized, we come together to be more intentional to do something about these crimes against children.

The Foundations of our Motivation

What motivates us to be here together is not mere resentment at indignities, repulsion before the horrific abuses against children, or grievances regarding the evils children on the move suffer.

Resentments at indignities are powerful forces that bring people together. These grievances can be political, economic, as in the desire to recover job losses. They can be social when prompted by social injustices.

Rallying people around grudges against such indignities can be observed in many quarters, all over the world. Resentments against real or imaginary humiliations mobilize people and give them reasons to hate.

Hate is not what brings us together. Hate is not what motivates or moves us.

What brings us together is more profound, more compelling. It is a moral imperative. We are not here for ourselves, not to promote ourselves or our respective brands or organizations.

We are here because of our deep commitment to principles and values steeped in the scriptures, memories, and stories of our various traditions.

Monotheists faith traditions claim to mirror God’s character, benevolence and actions. In these traditions God unequivocally cares about defenseless children and requires as a moral duty to care for the vulnerable members of the human family.

In Asian religions or philosophies of life, nonviolence and harmlessness are upheld as jewels, highly prized values. In some of these traditions, harmlessness extends to all transient beings. Especially, the most vulnerable.

But I like to believe that the best or more profound of what brings us together is love. Ultimately, love brings us together.

We are here in bold solidarity with our vulnerable sisters and brothers in humanity: children, especially children on the move, the most vulnerable among them.

For many of us, from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions, who claim to mirror the character and actions of God, our very religion becomes irrelevant should we choose to sit idle and do nothing while the world of children is facing a crisis of epidemic proportions.

This mobilization goes beyond theistic or monotheistic faiths to encompass other religious or philosophy of life traditions. For Jews and Christians who emphasize creation in the image of God as justification for human dignity, for Muslims who emphasize the vice-regency and representational divine mandate entrusted to human beings, for Buddhists who adhere to compassion and harmlessness, for Hindus who elevate human soul (atman) as previously being one with divinity (Brahman), none of us can be indifferent to the plight and predicament of vulnerable children on the move: displaced children, migrants, asylum seekers, all those children subjected to violence and pain inflicted by traffickers, human traffickers, organ traffickers, religious extremists, religious predators, secular perverts, and those who on a larger scale are practitioners of the crimes of ethnic cleansing, or indigenous cleansing to confiscate and appropriate their lands and resources. In all these horrors inflicted to the human family, children suffer.

The agreed nature and definition of our very humanity is at stake. Should violence against children on the move go unabated, the whole human family is at risk of losing our humane vocation. This vocation is inseparable from our calling to care for our most needy ones, our moral duty to do good to our fellow human beings and our life mission to love our neighbors. These are the very justifications of our existence and incontrovertible elements of peaceful co-existence.

An ancient prophet, Micah puts it in succinct terms: what is expected of all humans is to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8).

Every chapter of the Muslim’s Scripture but one, mentions the compassion of God. Every Muslim, therefore, true to his or her faith, has intrinsically a vocation of mirroring God’s compassion.

Yes, we are here moved by compassion. This we all share.To stifle our compassion and go on with the pursuit of partisan goals would be to negate life. We are here therefore because compassion matters.

Besides compassion, what faith traditions value most, is called justice, or even deeper righteousness. They cannot begin to be conceived without the care for the most vulnerable among the human family.

A Jewish thinker reminded us that,

Righteousness goes beyond justice. Justice is a strict and exact, giving each person his due. Righteousness implies benevolence, kindness, generosity.
Justice is a form, a state of equilibrium; righteousness has a substantive associated meaning. Justice may be legal; righteousness is associated with a burning compassion for the oppressed[3]

The validity and relevance of any given religion or philosophy of life can therefore be measured by the compassion that prompts protection and provision for the most vulnerable members of society.

From the perspective of those who believe that God models what God expects of all human beings, a commitment to reverse the plight of children subjected to violence is a priority.

Vulnerable children, especially, become the test of our humanity. When people are humane, children are safe, secure, inhabited by a hope for better tomorrows.
When people are humane children are not caught in the grip of fear of imminent danger or uncertainty regarding whether they will have their most basic needs met.

The sight of poor children offends our very humanity. Our response must be compassion and open hearts and hands.

It is the belief of billions of Christians that God has put God-self in such vulnerable situation as to say,

I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me (Matt. 25:35,36).

God so identifies with the disenfranchised that God takes, the plight and oppression of the poor as insults against God.

He who oppresses the poor insults his Maker,
But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him (Prov. 14:31).

Those among us from the Christian tradition are here for the sake of loyalty to the God who takes the side of defenseless children.

Jesus’ own life is instructive in our understanding of God’s view of children. As an infant and child, Jesus experienced the status of a fugitive and a refugee in Egypt. Hospitality to his family in need was critical to their survival and future. The welcoming of his family was necessary for him to fulfill his destiny and open a future to the human family, claim his followers.

Despite resistance from his own disciples, Jesus welcomed children and saw in them signs of his kingdom. Children are not second-class citizens. God’s attitude towards children shows that God sees children as sacred human beings.

We can certainly talk about an overlapping consensus on this one thing: saving the lives of children on the move, protecting their physical, emotional, intellectual, social and religious identity and integrity, providing for their subsistence, are mandates entrusted to our care, all of us each one of us.

So, we cannot just go to our respective holy places, be they cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, or temples and bypass sacred human beings, who the Apostle Paul calls temples of the Holy Spirit of God.

Allow me to submit for your consideration that violence against children is desecration of temples, precious to God. The image of God in children should in no way be underestimated, defiled, violated, subjected to pain and suffering and mutilation.

The despicable reality of rapes of babies, children, and youth deeply offend our very humanity. If these inhumane sacrilegious acts do not move us to action to stop violence against children, what else would? There is threshold, a boundary, or even a red line crossed in these ignominious acts. What is at stake is our very humanity that is defiled by these crimes.

So, we come together from various traditions to stand for our common humanity, for the whole human family, and for our common future.

We refuse to be accomplices to the perpetration of devastating and life-shattering traumas that make the air everywhere toxic and unbearable. The evil of destroying the lives of children, cutting all hope from their soul, from their being. This is something we, together, cannot just accept and stand by.

So, we stand together to save lives, to protect lives, to secure the sustained development of children in healthy environments, free from violence, abuses, and murders.

We stand together to say that human dignity is not the prerogative of a few. Children, all children, children on the move, are endowed with dignity by their creator.

Today, the concrete actions that are called for are purposed to alleviate the suffering of children on the move, to change their alienation into integration through hospitality, to reverse the disenfranchisement of these most vulnerable children and turn it into welcoming restoration of their dignity. One of the most powerful calls to the whole human family is still to love God with all one’s heart mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This call is not just a call to do justice but much more. It is a righteousness which translates into true human solidarity. We owe this commitment to righteousness to all members of the human family for the sake of the wellbeing of people everywhere, especially the most vulnerable, children on the move.

We thank all of you for your presence, participation and contributions to stop violence against children on the move. This is more than just talks, or well-crafted speeches to just temporarily soothe our conscience until the next pressing challenge.

An action plan with follow-ups will ensure that we will do our utmost to reverse the plight, predicament and pain of children on the move, so they can believe in the best of us, and contribute themselves to make the future a better one for all.

In the name of our common humanity, we apologize for all the deplorable violence inflicted on the vulnerable children on the move. We are deeply sorry, but we are also moved to act.

In gratitude to all of you for being human and humane.

Thank you.

Ganoune Diop, Ph.D.
Director, Public Affair and Religious Liberty, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
Secretary General, International Religious Liberty Association
Secretary, Conference of General Secretaries of Christian World Communions
Rome, October 16, 2018

[1] Ganoune Diop, Ph.D. is Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist World Headquarters; General Secretary, International Religious Liberty Association; and, Secretary of the Conference of General Secretaries of Christian World Communions

[2] See Susan Hillis,James Mercy,Adaugo Amobi,Howard Kress, “Global Prevalence of Past-year Violence Against Children: A Systematic Review and Minimum Estimates.” Review Article from the American Academy of Pediatrics January 2016. “What are the numbers telling us? In 2015, at least three out of four of the world’s children – an estimated 1.7 billion – had experienced some form of interpersonal violence in a previous year.Violence against children is now recognized as a global epidemic. Children on the move are particularly vulnerable to all forms of violence. As of 2017, 30 million children lived outside their country of birth.By the end of 2015, there were 17 million internally displaced children (most because of violence and conflict).Unaccompanied/separated children on the move are on the rise: 300,000 applied for asylum in 2015-16, an increase from 66,000 children recorded in 2010-11.Faced with an increasing flow of migrants, the political narrative in host countries is becoming more hostile to foreigners and increasingly intolerant of different cultures. This narrative and political implications create obstacles for social cohesion, integration, access to basic services and the respect and fulfillment of the rights of children on the move, exacerbating their vulnerability. In particular, children under five years risk longer-term negative impact on their physical and psychological development.”

[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Prophets. P. 256.