“We walked for days, for months, thousands of miles. We slept on the ground and often had to eat leaves to survive. People shot at us. Many boys were killed. What happened to my parents? I don’t know.”
-a Sudanese child refugee
It is ironical. For every war that is started; for every country that is divided on social, religious or political lines; for every ethnic group ravaged by strife, violence and bloodshed; for every community torn apart by human fallacies – the worst sufferers happen to be those who had nothing whatsoever to do with the escalating disruption. The most vulnerable population in the world right now are refugee children, driven away from the security of a protected and innocent childhood because the world is run by grown-ups. Of the 50 million refugees and displaced people in the world, approximately half are children.
Murder, mutilation and abduction are just beginning of the story for these refugee children fleeing their countries because of political instability, armed conflicts and wars. The refugee camps, which shelter a majority of these people, are notorious for the hazardous conditions that they throw the children into. Prostitution, sexual violence, forced employment in risky labour activities, a lack of basic hygiene and education and inadequate food supply are some of the factors that make these camps so dangerous for children. Another grave problem is the forced military recruitment of children as young as eight or nine from these camps as well as from the afflicted regions. More than 300,000 boys and girls under 18 years of age are currently serving as “child soldiers.” Many are less than 10 years old. These children are separated from their families, lack education, face poverty, and are often subject to drug and sexual abuse.
Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child has declared special protection for refugee children. Unaccompanied refugee children i.e. those who have lost or have been separated from their parents are entitled to further protection. Those refugee children fleeing war-ravaged areas and children living in areas afflicted by armed conflicts are also entitled to special protection under Article 38 of this convention. It has been found that unaccompanied children are detained by the naturalization and immigration facilities of the country of asylum for very lengthy periods of time before being released and reunited with friends and family or being given for adoption. It can be easily discerned that the conditions in detention facilities are not by any human logic conducive for little children to spend their formative years. Even if we overlook this fact as being unavoidable due to bureaucratic code of conduct and decorum of office, we cannot in any manner ignore the inhuman treatment that these children sometimes receive during their period of confinement. Abuse of refugee children, both sexually and mentally, is a reality that we cannot shy away from. On paper, these children are entitled to rights including the rights to life, physical integrity, adequate food and medical care, education, and to be free from discrimination, exploitation, and abuse. How much of legislation goes into implementation is subjective but I think we could make a safe generalization that not much have been done to better the conditions of these unfortunate children.
The ordeal that these children undergo is made even worse by the fact that more often that not, they are not even able to grasp and realise what it is that they have been put through. The full extent of the situation fails to register in their minds and the reason for the things happening around them evades them. The list of human rights violation by the authorities (who ironically are responsible to care for them) is never-ending. They often deny information to the children about their detention and about their right to be represented by an attorney who is able to communicate to them in any language they understand. in immigration proceedings In some cases, they are housed with juvenile offenders and thus are subjected to a rigid and punitive environment, which is almost akin to being treated like law-breakers themselves.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is the primary actor responsible for the assistance and protection of refugee children, has used the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the basis for extensive policies and guidelines to protect refugee children. However, many global tracing programs have been organized by humanitarian organizations and by one estimate, between 1994 and 2000, more than 67,000 children were reunited with their families in Africa’s Great Lakes region. There are still many wars being fought today — about 37 armed conflicts are going on around the world. It is time the world put into action all the brilliant plans it had already come up with in order to save these children. A poor orphaned refugee child with a hungry stomach and a broken body, with no prospects in this world, deserves the best from this life as much as any other child in the world. Let’s not let childhood go to waste.
[Image Source: http://flickr.com/photos/kelleys/360974000/]