Let the Children Live

I spent much of Easter with Lucinda and the mighty Bertie and it has been great fun but it is good to be back writing. Bertie is now nearly 15 months old and I am still astonished at the rate at which young children grow and learn.

In the last month, Bertie has learnt to walk, verbalising is still a way off but understanding and comprehension are getting better every day. With the rights of grandfathers at the fore, I have recently taught him to high five. We did it once and he has remembered. Ask him to get his boots to go for a walk in the garden and off he will waddle, in the way young children still wearing a nappy do.

Lucinda called her Grandfather, Grumps and she has decided that the name should become a family tradition. So, when Bertie is asked to give something to Grumps he knows where to go.

Of course, there is something special about Bertie, but he is special because he is my grandson but around the world, the same miracle is happening a million times. Not least in Reading where Sasha’s sister Ann has a young son, Michael, who coincidentally was born on the same day and just a matter of hours before Bertie.

Young children are sponges: watching and observing, copying, assimilating, and learning and developing all the time. They also do a good line in sleeping which makes me jealous. I still think a quick nap at lunchtime is a good idea.

As we get older, not only don’t we get as much chance to sleep but nor do we have the same biological growth in our brains. But, this is not just about biology. For so many age is an excuse to be lazy, to stop being interested, to stop learning, and to stop being inquisitive.

What makes our cosy inaction more depressing is that for millions of children across the world their earliest years are harder than anything you could imagine.

I wanted to know how many children don’t have Bertie’s opportunities. Working across 190 countries and territories, UNICEF defends the rights of children and young people, and their website gave me the answer.

Take one example, out of many, Yemen. This is UNICEF.

SANA’A, 27 March 2018– Nearly half a million children have dropped out of school since the 2015 escalation of conflict in Yemen, bringing the total number of out-of-school children to 2 million, according to a UNICEF assessment released today.  Meanwhile, almost three-quarters of public school teachers have not been paid their salaries in over a year, putting the education of an additional 4.5 million children at grave risk.

“An entire generation of children in Yemen faces a bleak future because of limited or no access to education,” said Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Representative in Yemen. “Even those who remain in school are not getting the quality education they need.”

It is not just Yemen. Look at the UNICEF website and you can take your pick of conflicts or natural disasters affecting children. These are headlines from their press releases in March 2018.

  • Multiple earthquakes in Papua New Guinea leave children traumatized.
  • Rohingya refugee crisis: Children trapped in limbo and deprived of their basic rights
  • Statement on the release of girls abducted from a school in Dapchi by Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria
  • Taps run dry for 2 million people as fighting intensifies in Aleppo
  • Risking it all to escape gang violence and poverty. UNICEF reports on the harrowing journey of refugee and migrant children from Central America

The problem we have is that this, and by this I mean the plight of millions of children being caught in the middle of grown-up’s fights, is such frequent news that we tend not to see it as it is. We have become complacent.

I am not a religious person and have no faith worthy of a regular Church visit but the New Testament story of Jesus has some good words about children: Jesus said, “Let the little children come, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these

When I was bringing up Lucinda, a good friend, Alan McNab always said that we should treat and think of children as young adults. We should show them respect, respect their opinions and recognise their individual needs. In a western, civilised society he was right, but for the rest of the world, think of them only as vulnerable children whose needs are very simple and basic: food, water, loving parents, an education and safety. If you don’t they will never become adults.

I asked a question a few paragraphs ago. Let me try and answer it.

One in every nine children is raised in a conflict zone, according to a UNICEF report released in 2016. Two hundred and fifty million young people are living in war zones and with the number of people fleeing these regions at its highest since World War II, every second refugee is a child.

In 2015 alone, some 75 million children were born into conflict zones, said the report. What complicates matters, the UN agency said, is that on top of the risks to health and safety, regional violence blocks access to education.

Think about it when you next see a group of children playing in your local park. One in nine children is raised in a conflict zone. That can mean bombings, living in a dark basement, no school, no medical assistance, no parents, abduction, or rape and sexual molestations.

If that doesn’t stop your complacency, if that doesn’t make you want to do something, if that doesn’t trigger some activity in those unused brain cells, then little else will.