Perhaps grandparents can help in meeting one of the greatest contemporary challenges: translating talk and ideals about putting children first into reality. They cannot stand alone in love and protection, but what grandparents can represent and harness is a threefold gift: the ability to look back, aware of the paths we have traversed, realistic yet also visionary ideals for a future that comes with a later part of life sense of time and urgency, and a robust capacity to savor both love and the magic dreams of childhood. We need all three gifts as we strive to protect, cherish, and support the world’s children.
Moving rhetoric and promises hark back to ideals of childhood: a time of limitless prospects, dreams and discovery, innocence, intense curiosity, boundless love, and spiritual depth. Many a leader and politician has voiced commitments to care and act for children, at countless levels, global to family, extending to every religion, culture, and continent. It would be hard to find leaders with hearts so hardened that they deny the appeals of childhood or the need to protect the young.
And indeed, the progress the world has seen in improving children’s welfare across the world is a remarkable human achievement. Infant and child mortality, a harsh reality over the centuries, is sharply reduced. Child labor persists but 16-hour days in factories for children or a life-time breaking bricks or weaving carpets, once deemed acceptable as a norm, today encounter outrage. Schooling and healthcare were a reality only for the privileged in the past; today the right to education and health care are central human rights and a daily norm in most parts of the world. When children thrive, there are few bounds on what they, and their families and communities, can achieve.
These transformations have come about both because compassionate visionaries and dedicated scientists, religious leaders, politicians, and countless others have worked creatively and doggedly, in partnerships, to change norms and systems.
This progress, that has transformed the lives of children across the world, shows what is possible and what is desirable. But it also shines a harsh light on what is still to be done.
Because alongside children who thrive, there are vast numbers who suffer. These children live in situations of poverty and deprivation, malnourished or starving, subject to illnesses that can be cured, out of school or learning little. The wonders that technology brings cause harm as well. Mobile devices and the internet open worlds of learning but also pornography and trafficking. Far too many children are abused both by those who should care for them and give them love, and, worse still, by flawed and unjust systems. To take one especially disturbing reality, many millions of children face uncertain, stunted futures as they grow up in refugee and internally displaced people’s communities.
Cruelty and neglect have always been a part of the realities of childhood (many fairy tales remind us of those ancient realities). These realities today stand in stark contrast to the knowledge of what can be done to stop them, and the good it offers to society. We can and must do better. The questions and challenges we face today turn far more on how than on what and why. As to who, surely this is a widely shared social and political responsibility
Four imperatives stand out, and, with the kind of partnerships that Arigatou International promotes and inspires, success is within reach. The ideals are set out clearly, notably in the global blueprint that is reflected in the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in countless international, national, and local commitments. But each goal demands clear sights and visions, action plans, dedication to partnerships, and solid commitments.
- Quality education for all is an internationally central goal and a key to the future. Skills are essential but so are social gifts and a robust ethical compass. Especially on the latter, there is much scope for action as children are prepared for the complex, ever-changing, plural world of today and tomorrow.
- Security, with action to resolve conflicts and to assure safety and protection from violence of all forms.
- The good governance and equitable multilateral action that can address inequity and extreme poverty, assure food security and decent healthcare, and act on discrimination and persecution. And
- A child-centered approach to all matters of policy, from the United Nations institutions, G7, and G20, religious and interreligious communities, national authorities, to the most local, community settings, to listen to and hear the voices of children and to promise and give them the love and care that is so often promised but not delivered.
The reality of policy-making is that large gaps can separate noble intentions, promises, and even solid commitments from the pressures of daily action. In the throes of policy-making, budget debates, political bargaining, and interpersonal maneuvers, the needs of children, whose voices too rarely rise above the din of the policy fray, fall down the policy agenda ladder. We need systems and approaches (Arigatou falls in this category) that remind, constantly, creatively, and forcefully, that children must come first. Grandparents, who have rather magical roles and a special kind of love and care can help. We need the time-hardened ability to understand realities together with the capacity to hear children’s inner and outer voices and to imagine well what they can become. The Arigatou coalitions, diverse and working alongside leading governance bodies, can unite and serve this watching, conscience role.