September 9: A group of children are going to attend the International Conference on War-affected Children, at Winnipeg in Canada, from September 10 to 17. Coming from war-torn countries like Somalia, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Kosovo will all wear hats during the conference. The hats are meant to prevent them from being identified back home. They might be punished for speaking out against war when they return.
But there will be some children who will not wear hats, and will even talk to journalists, according to a recent article in ‘The Indian Express’.
The children will meet for two days behind closed doors to discuss what is happening in their countries. About 25 Canadian children will also join the conference. The points they make will be discussed later by ministers from 60 countries, who are scheduled to meet at Winnipeg on September 16 and 17.
Does this mean that adults are now accepting that they have made a mess of things, especially in politics? One does not know what the adults will make of the conference, but there are enough examples around the world of children raising their voices for peace.
For instance, an impressive school children’s movement in Colombia succeeded in making their national legislature vote for peace. The movement was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
In the last 10 years alone, over two million children have died during wars and more than five million have been physically disabled in violence, including landmines. Many children end up in refugee camps during war, separated from their families or are orphaned.
Others are forcibly recruited into armies, or join them voluntarily – currently about 300 000 child soldiers are participating in conflicts around the world.
The irony is that there has been a United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child for the last 11 years, but very few countries, have signed it, including the United States. The Convention recognises the right of a child to a secure childhood, to the love of parents and family, to education and health. It also recognizes the rights of a child to say no to exploitative or hazardous work.
Being one of the earliest countries to sign the UN Convention, Canada has decided to host the conference. It is being hoped that the conference will get politicians to agree on the way governments and armies should behave with children in times of conflict.