Global church leaders met for the consultation on protecting children’s dignity and rights at Virar, India, Jan. 21-25. Throughout the “Fullness of life and dignity of children: focus on street children” consultation, regional Christian leaders explored ways the church can play a vital role in piecing together the broken lives of the millions of marginalized children.
“Despite tremendous growth in economic activity and the globalization of trade and capital, despite the penetration of transnational corporations into every corner of the world and the increase of productivity, the world’s poor have not benefited, and the children of the poor suffer the negative impact of this much-popularized development growth”, the church leaders observed.
Participants included members from the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia representing churches from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Each of the regional leaders encouraged active engagement in the lives of vulnerable children, and gave examples of their member churches working to protect children’s dignity and their right to a decent life.
Churches must play a “vital role in responding to the cry of a generation lost in the wilderness,” the leaders asserted. They also emphasized the need to move away from a traditional charity-based approach as the magnitude of the problems faced by and the number of afflicted children increases.
CCA president Metropolitan Dr. Joseph Mar Iranaeus of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in India opened the consultation with the words:
"As we are surrounded by millions of children who have lost dignity and fullness of life in their day-to-day lives, churches around the world should respond to God's call to be the partners in His mission to restore the dignity and fullness of life of all children." These are God's gifts, and "children deserve them as much as any other human beings,"
Following the inauguration, the WCC program executive for Asia, Mathews George Chunakara, delivered the keynote address.
"Despite all the international instruments existing now to protect and promote the rights of the child, especially the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, which has been ratified by 191 countries,” said Chunakara, “more than 250 million children around the world are on the streets, and most of them are in Asia and Latin America".
Representing the Rumanian Orthodox Church, Fr. Gabriel said his church has been providing care and protection to the hundreds of street children that have been displaced by market-oriented economic reforms in the nation.
Many of the children were addicted to drugs “like poisonous glue,” Cazacu said. However, "The love and affection they have received has helped them to blossom.”
Representing the National Council of Churches in Botswanna, Emmanuel Motsamal reported on the needs of children in the AIDS and poverty-struck African nations.
"African children's lives are becoming much more vulnerable due to […] rising intra-state conflict and loosely organized fighting groups, and to HIV/AIDS", said Motsamal.
Oluwakemi Linda Banks, president of the Caribbean Council of Churches reported that "the changing pattern in social and family lives and moral values, and the increasing breakdown of the family have affected the upbringing of children in many parts of the Caribbean".
Joan Arelis Figueroa of the Church of the Disciples of Christ, Puerto Rico, also reported that the number of child workers and street children in Latin America has increased. Begging and juvenile delinquency are common in most Latin American countries, and increasing violence among these children is the result of promiscuity, growing poverty and hunger, she said.
WCC programme executive for Latin America and Caribbean Marta Palma agreed, saying that children are increasingly being mistreated and exploited in Latin American countries. However, several rehabilitation and counseling centers for children that were established by Latin American Churches, she said.
Chuleepran Pearsons of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), and CCA executive secretary Josef Widyatmaja observed that sexual exploitation of children, including prostitution, pornography and trafficking has become a serious problem in Asia since the nations scrambled to develop.
To battle against the rising “sex-tourism” industry and poverty and abandonment of children, the CCT opened up several new asylums and foster care centers.
Clarissa Chang of the Council of Churches in Malaysia said some churches in her country have motivated congregation members to foster children who need care and protection.
The program director the Church of North India ministry to children, Sanjana Das, described the dedication of several local congregations to fulfilling the basic needs of vulnerable children through custodial care.