Saving the world’s children

THIS past Monday marked World Children’s Day — a day when the international community comes together to commit to a better future for the world’s children. But it has been a losing battle. This year, the date felt like a ‘commemoration’ of just how futile the world’s efforts have been in this regard — a complete failure, in fact.

Arguably, never before have so many images of so many innocent lives lost passed in front of our eyes as we scrolled down the screens of our phones.

According to a recent report by Al Jazeera, over 5,500 children have been killed in the conflict in Gaza so far. The report asserts that since the Hamas attack of Oct 7, one child has been killed every 10 minutes in Gaza.

Some 1,800 children remain missing after the Israeli response and are believed to be dead or dying under the rubble of demolished homes and buildings caused by the bombing.

Around 9,000 have been injured with “life-changing consequences”. One in every 200 children in Gaza is now dead and many more are expected to perish in the days ahead as Israel continues to rain down bombs on a helpless population. The Israeli authorities as well as much of the Israeli public seem oblivious to the utter inhumanity of the bombing.

On World Children’s Day, Israel chose to accuse the United Nations of having forgotten about the children who have been taken hostage by Hamas; in the meantime, the Israeli forces have killed many thousands in the Palestinian territory.

While the children of Gaza continue to be exposed to death and suffering, there are others elsewhere who are also living in precarious conflict zones, and whose plight calls for global attention.

According to Unicef, one in five of all children live amidst armed conflict. They face displacement and misery of all manner, which underscores the fact that only the wealthy get to have a childhood. Take, for instance, the children sent across the US-Mexico border every year without any adults accompanying them. Even though they are children, they are detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

These same children who are put in detention for walking across the border would have a completely different life and future had they been born a few hundred miles further north in the US. It appears particularly tragic that even the privilege of having a childhood depends on the accident of birth.

It is particularly tragic that even the privilege of having a childhood depends on the accident of birth.

The children who are not getting bombed or shot at aren’t doing much better either. Although it has been 34 years since the passage of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, matters have been going from bad to worse.

According to Unicef, one billion children are currently living in countries that are at severe risk from the adverse consequences of climate change. These children are in danger of losing their homes and being displaced owing to the effects of climate change.

The ever-hotter world and increasing temperatures mean that a great number of children are at risk of starvation because the crops they rely on for nourishment are threatened by new climate patterns.

The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have produced some surprising effects on the health of children as well. While Covid-19 itself did not target children, the many controversies around vaccination created an unprecedented crisis for inoculation against childhood diseases.

One in five children alive today are “zero-dose vaccinated or under-vaccinated”. One reason for this is that “in May 2020, more than half of all vaccination campaigns in 57 countries had to be cancelled or postponed”. Since then, many have not gone back to what they used to be. As a result, many diseases that have been wiped out are resurfacing in all sorts of places.

Pakistan has also been affected by this. In addition to inadequate outreach, there have been suspicions on the part of parents about the vaccinations themselves. Much of the reluctance to have children vaccinated is linked to the Osama bin Laden raid in 2011 and the fake vaccination drive that was initiated to identify the Al Qaeda chief’s location.

The programme has faltered not only because door-to-door vaccinators became a target for terrorist attacks but also because the programme has been underfunded.

Unlike climate change and, it seems, war, the immunisation issue has solutions. One of these is to identify which of the zero-vaccinated and under-vaccinated children can be identified.

In many cases, communities do not vaccinate their children because of beliefs that they now hold about vaccination. Sometimes, these misconceptions can be easily addressed by community engagement. Similarly, it is necessary that those children who missed vaccination are inoculated. Finally, a lot more investment needs to be made in the Lady Health Workers programme since that remains Pakistan’s best bet to get children vaccinated again.

It is particularly tragic that in 2023, when people can video-call each other free of charge from one end of the world to the other, children are still suffering and dying from entirely preventable diseases.

Now that it has been more than a decade since the Bin Laden raid; it is time to start re-educating the public about the necessity of vaccinations and the precarious future faced by children if they are not inoculated against disease.

In these bleak times, it seems that all we can offer most of the world’s suffering children is our empathy and prayers. But we do have the power to influence the lives of the children around us by being cognisant of their needs, their delicate minds and hearts, their innocence and purity. It will not solve all the problems faced by children, but it will be a good beginning and can save lives.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

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