UNITED NATIONS — Millions of the world’s children today are victims of armed conflict, pornography and sexual trafficking, and still more “are denied the most fundamental right to life,” said the Vatican’s nuncio to the United Nations.
“Prenatal selection eliminates babies suspected to have disabilities and female children simply because of their sex,” Archbishop Berardito Auza said Oct. 17 in a statement to the U.N. Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, which was discussing the rights of children.
He is the Vatican’s permanent representative at the U.N. in New York.
Archbishop Auza cited a report delivered a month earlier by Ambassador Anthony Lake, the executive director of UNICEF, who did not focus on any improved conditions for children but rather on the growing number of humanitarian crises that are severely challenging how countries try to provide children the protection they deserve.
“It is an unfortunate reality that every conflict, every outbreak of an epidemic, every natural disaster,” he said, “has the potential to roll back the steady progress the world has made in recent decades in reducing child mortality and improving access to nutrition, safe water and education.”
It is even more tragic “when such rollbacks” are caused by humans and specifically target and victimize children, he said.
“In recent years, almost 3 million children have been killed in armed conflicts; 6 million have been left disabled; tens of thousands mutilated by anti-personnel mines,” Archbishop Auza said.
“Too many children still lack sufficient food and housing,” he continued. In many countries “they have no access to medicines,” he said, and still other children “are sold to traffickers, sexually exploited, recruited into irregular armies, uprooted by forced displacements, or compelled into debilitating work.”
With regard to recruiting child soldiers, he noted that “this has spread in some regions where this phenomenon was not rampant and that there have been recent cases of children forced to commit terrorist acts like suicide bombings.”
“Eliminating violence against children demands that states, governments, civil society and religious communities support and enable the family to carry out its proper responsibility,” Archbishop Auza said.
He said the approaching 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family “offers an opportunity to refocus on the role of the family in development.”
It is a chance to reflect on what the family, which he termed a “primordial institution,” can do to face the multiple challenges threatening the children’s development in all countries.
He said the Vatican and its U.N. delegation “attaches great importance” to the commemoration.
In 1994 to mark the celebration of the International Year of the Family, St. John Paul II issued a “Letter to Families” in which he told families the love and acceptance they show for each other are society’s first-line defense against attacks on human dignity.
For its part, Archbishop Auza said in his remarks, the Catholic Church, “mainly through its more than 300,000 social and educational institutions around the world, especially in depressed and war-torn regions, will continue working daily to ensure both education and food for children, as well as the reintegration of the victims of violence into their families and into society.”
He also noted that the U.N. in November will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which he said “remains a prominent standard in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.”
The document, he said, “contains such fundamental principles as the protection of the rights of the child before as well as after birth, the family as the natural environment for the growth and education of children, and the right of the child to health care and education.”
The world’s governments and civil society in general “should encourage all initiatives and activities aimed at the promotion and protection of the rights of the child,” Archbishop Auza said.
In this regard, he said it was fitting that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was jointly won by Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls’ right to education, and Kailash Satyarthi of India, who campaigns against child trafficking and child labor.
At 17, Yousafzai is the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; Satyarthi, 60, is the first Indian-born winner.