Long before there was a United Nations there were children. Long before there was a United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child there were obviously children. The care of children – in most cases – is dictated by love, good instinct, common sense and all those other factors that make parents, guardians and community recognize a child’s vulnerability, innocence and need for adult protection.
But we do not live in an ideal world. Children cannot choose their parents. They do not have a say on the guardianship into whose care they might find themselves. And in this imperfect world, imbeciles sometimes get children, deviants sometimes get children, the mentally challenged sometimes get children and sadly, children sometimes get children. Article 3 (1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
Article 3 (2) of the Convention says: “States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.” Article 3 (3) dictates: “States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.”
That these and other rules have to be placed in black and white says a lot about the likely baseness of us human beings who sometimes relate to our children worse from the seat of reason, than animals relate to their offspring from the seat of instinct. Two recent images circulating on social media have again demonstrated just how unworthy some human beings are to be bestowed the gift of procreation. In one video image little children seemingly at kindergarten and primary school age are seen being encouraged to smoke cigarettes – the type unknown. In the other, a child is seen to be drinking a substance from a Banks Beer bottle. Of course, the assumption is that the child was being encouraged to drink alcohol, although it is not beyond the realm of possibility that if the provider of the beverage is later identified for it to be claimed that there was merely a non-alcoholic substance in a Banks Beer bottle.
But the images bring to the fore once again the vulnerability of our children and the incorrigibility of some of our adults. We have had images worse than these, it is true. Images of children murdered by their fathers, images of children brutalized by their mothers, images of children sexually molested by their uncles, images of children neglected and left to starve by those charged with their care. And often the institutions outside the family responsible for ensuring that our children are protected are negligent in their responsibilities. But images, big or small, that tear at our children’s innocence are all reprehensible.
Today’s technology, thankfully, brings much of what happens to our children into the public domain. But we would be naïve to think that this is some new phenomenon. There have been human beings around forever. But since we know the sickness that resides among us, and there is the acceptance that we cannot eliminate it without ridding the earth of human beings, what can we do to temper it? Parent education has been undertaken by some organizations over the years but there has been a palpable fall-off in this area. Agencies such as the Child Care Board which has rightfully taken a public whipping in recent times over lapses in its monitoring and follow-up procedures must ramp up its effectiveness, especially as it relates to actual interventions. Institutions such as the church need to take their ministry and messages into communities and homes rather than wait for these to enter their doors.
And we the general public have a major role to play. Make the welfare of our neighbours’ children our business. Let our eyes and ears be constantly wary of telltale signs of physical abuse, sexual assault and neglect, and be always eager to relate them to the relevant authorities. It is perhaps better to report one’s suspicions and be wrong than to ignore them and be right. Good citizens and responsible parents do not need United Nations articles or conventions to appreciate what is best for an innocent child and to do the right thing.