A lament for the children

A lament for the children

Esther Epp-Tiessen

Twenty-three years ago, my husband and I held our son Timothy as life ebbed from his cancer-ravaged body. Over his short eight years, he had struggled with cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, and epilepsy, but it was medullablastoma (a form of childhood brain cancer) that ultimately killed him.

Tim’s prolonged illness – and our journey with him – have made me especially sensitive to the suffering of children. Because of Tim, I cannot bear to see children suffer. I am especially enraged by the suffering inflicted on children by other humans.

Consider these realities:

  • According to UNICEF, 2017 was a “nightmare year” for children living in conflict zones. Children in conflict zones came under attack in places that should be safe: homes, schools, hospitals and playgrounds. They were used as human shields. They were raped and enslaved, abducted and recruited to fight, maimed and killed.
  • Hundreds of thousands of children were displaced from their homes. Indeed, it is estimated that,

    Kolo Adamu holds a photo of her 18-year-old daughter Naomi who was abducted by Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group, in 2014 along with more than 200 other girls who were taken from Chibok secondary school in Nigeria. In May 2017, Naomi was among 80 girls who were released. MCC photo/Fred Yocum

    currently and worldwide, 50 million children are uprooted by brutal conflict and extreme poverty.

  • Displaced children become refugees when they cross an international border. In the last weeks of 2017, we heard much about Rohingya children fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh, but child refugees also fled and continue to flee countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Many of them were alone. In Europe, refugees who are “unaccompanied minors” number 100,000 annually.
  • Millions of children live with hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity. In East Africa alone – notably South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia – at the end of 2017, 9 million children suffered from malnutrition, with 1 million severely malnourished or at risk of dying by the end of the year.
  • Palestinian children in the occupied territories, convicted of throwing stones or some other misdemeanor deemed a security threat to Israel, are placed in Israeli military detention, where abuse, harassment and violation of basic rights are systemic and widespread. (Learn more and take action on this issue.)

And the horrors many children experience are not just “over there.”  Many children here in Canada live with poverty, discrimination, violence and insecurity as well.

  • For example, 2 million children across Canada– representing 17 percent of all Canadian children – live in low-income households. Indigenous children are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as non-Indigenous children. Indeed, poverty rates for children on First Nations reserves average 60 percent across the country, with Manitoba (my province) reporting rates as high as 76 percent.
  • Tricia Monague, an Ojibway jingle dancer, dances in Ottawa in memory of Indigenous children who died at Indian Residential Schools, 2015. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

    Indigenous children in Canada experience discrimination at many levels, including by the federal government.  In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Canada systematically discriminated against Indigenous childrenby not providing the same level of welfare services to children on reserve as to children off reserve. The situation continues.

  • Hate crimes and acts of discrimination against Muslims in Canada haveincreased dramatically over the past years.  And, while most of these are directed towards adults, Muslim children are impacted nonetheless. Children were present in the Quebec City mosque where 6 Muslim men were massacred January 29, 2017; seventeen children became fatherles
  • Canadian children also experience violence. While not targeted to the same extent as adults when it comes to violent crime, children are five times more likely than adults to become victims of sexual offenses.  In 80 percent of cases reported to police, the perpetrator is someone known to the child victim.  Young people under 18 make up a quarter of recorded human trafficking victims.

Children deserve a life free of fear and free of want. They deserve to be loved and cared for by people they can trust and love in return. They deserve to be surrounded by communities of care, with opportunities to learn and grow and flourish.

As I consider all the travesties to which children are subjected, I can only weep and whisper, “Lord, have mercy.”

Esther Epp-Tiessen is Public Engagement Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee, Ottawa Office