by Gillian Hugo
At the forefront of our minds, today is the ongoing war in Israel/Palestine, but worldwide, many others continue. In fact, according to UNICEF, “The number of countries experiencing violent conflict is the highest it has been in the last 30 years.” And with these are the continuous attacks on children. The protection of children is low on the list of priorities.
Wars displace, kill, maim and orphan children. Many others are enslaved, trafficked, abused and exploited as a result of war. Needs like safety, nutrition, health care and education are unmet. Birthdays, parties, and religious celebrations are forgotten.
“The United Nations Security Council has identified and condemned six grave violations against children in times of war: Killing and maiming of children; recruitment or use of children in armed forces and armed groups; attacks on schools or hospitals; rape or other grave sexual violence; abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access for children. Between 2005 and 2022, more than 315,000 grave violations were verified against children, committed by parties to conflict in more than 30 conflict situations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. The actual number is undoubtedly far higher.” (UNICEF) I shudder to think about the statistics if we only added the numbers of violations since 7 October 2023 in Israel/Palestine, let alone the rest of the world.
Visuals from the Israel/Palestine war are heartbreaking. Parents in Gaza desperately running into bombarded hospitals with injured or dead children is common. Videos of Israeli parents begging for the release of their hostage children flooded our social media networks. I remember a father saying that it was his child’s birthday! Imagine that child’s memory of a birthday as a hostage.
Christmas is four days away. There are Christians in both Palestine and Israel and many other war-torn countries. What kind of celebration, if any, will there be? Will there be a ceasefire on Christmas Day? How many children will be given the horror gift of the death of a parent or loved one? How many parents will lose the precious gift of a child?
A quote from a UNICEF article reads, “Children have become frontline targets. This is a moral crisis of our age: We must never accept this as the ‘new normal.’” You may be asking what you can do.
We are called to pray. Pray for the innocent victims of war: the children, the aged, the sick, the vulnerable, the average “man in the street”. Pray for an end to the wars. Pray that the leaders of these countries will cease the attacks that are claiming the lives of civilians.
Let us not disregard the suffering, especially that of children.
Let us be the voices that remind leaders that children, more so those trapped in war-torn areas, need to be protected against attacks and violence. The requirements of international law need to be upheld.
These children are the hope and future of their countries.
As you prepare for and spend Christmas with your children and loved ones, spare a thought for those suffering and grieving. Children are God’s gift to the world, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion. Let us love them as they rightly deserve.