As a man of faith working for a faith-based child focused development organisation, I was invited to participate in a conference this summer, to find solutions to end poverty and violence against children.
Organised by Arigatou, a global network of faith groups, I was eager to attend as the subject is something profoundly important to me and one that challenges me on almost a daily basis.During the discussions, I found myself reflecting on the numerous children and teenagers I meet every day and those I have met from around the world through my work as an advocate for child rights and well-being. Among them is one that I now consider a personal hero.Julic (not real name) at 12 years old, does things that no adult should even be doing, just to survive and yet he is a smart boy with such a big heart for others. Whenever we meet, his bright smile is something that brings warmth to my heart despite the pain I feel for him and his siblings. They survive by begging and collecting scrap. This leaves me wondering, how is it possible that he is always happy and smiling despite the suffering he endures every day?
Does anyone care about him and all children like him?
Julic comes from a Roma family. The Roma are Europe’s largest minority and many are the victims of prejudice and social exclusion. Because of this, Julic’s young life has been characterised by stigma and discrimination, poverty and abuse at home and in community since he was child. He has no birth certificate, dropped out of school at an early age, has no health insurance, and rarely does he have more than one meal day. This poverty from birth has forced him to end up on the street to collect scraps and beg for money just to have that meal.
Most of the children who suffer from poverty and violence like Julic include those from minorities, poor households, and children living with disabilities, girl’s children in certain cultural contexts, children in rural areas, and children in areas of armed conflict. They face violence from people around them – in their homes and community life at the hands of those who are the ones that should be protecting them – parents, teachers, and civil servants entrusted to take care of them in institutions and their peers. It’s not unusual to hear of sexual abuse (pornography, prostitution) involving children as young as two years old and trafficking of young girls for various reasons with some of the most recent cases in Romania just this year. Each day the trend seems to be getting worse.
We know that poverty and violence know no borders and are statistically proven to go hand in hand. Globally, an estimated 50 per cent of the World’s children live in poverty (UNICEF 2015). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) it’s also estimated that 50 per cent of the world’s children face violence daily. Is this a coincidence? Going by the statistics it is clear that without addressing poverty, it will be almost impossible to eradicate violence against children (VAC).
These children may appear as statistics but each statistic represents a young life and their lives matter.
Once abused, a child requires more financial resources and time to heal from the effects – if they ever permanently can. Many Government systems, laws, policies and institutions are not supportive and where they are, support is very limited. This is why focusing on prevention and protection of children is so crucial.
The most recent study on the global economic burden of Violence against Children, resulting from physical, psychological and sexual violence, estimates that costs could be as high as $7 trillion per year, or 8 per cent of global GDP. It also showed that prevention pays producing real economic returns. The cost of reducing violence is far less than the cost of inaction. An EU study found that every Euro invested in preventing VAC produces a social return of €87 ($100). It is these resources that will help to contribute to provision of public services. Services children living in poverty so desperately need.