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Children in war and peace, beauty and love


Children can get lost. When I was seven years old, I might have been picked up by the British on the inter–German border and handed over to Soviet troops.

By Fr Oskar Wermter sj

But it was raining cats and dogs, and the Russians were not interested. My family picked me up from a camp for lost children, and I proceeded happily to the West.

Polish children were snatched from troops of their fatherland and landed in South Africa where they somehow found a new home.

Wars often shift little children across to new frontiers. There are always children who need new parents.

In disorganised military forces, men, without a home, or women without friends, may find a warm home atmosphere, or places where they can sink roots for a new beginning.

In such disorderly places, they may make new friends, or build up new homes and new families.

We meet children in the arms of their mothers, kept alive by their military fathers, like pieces of war propaganda to justify their combat fighters flown by their elder brothers, young women in Islamic traditional dress teaching their veiled little sisters. What keeps them alive?

The great tradition of the Old Covenant of Israel, the enormous trust they have in the God of Israel?

What will ever enable the people of Israel to rebuild their heritage and their country, if not love of their children?

But what about the children of the enemy? Can we accept their losses without batting an eyelid? Is it not just a further punishment ?

If we were to protect our enemies from such heart-breaking loss, would it not collect burning ashes on their heads, and be a first step on the road to peace and reconciliation ?

If we had to carry the same burden, and were overwhelmed by the same despair and similar pain, should not our hearts open to our opponents, have compassion, if not with elders, then at least with their children and embrace those little ones ?

So many youngsters have a very bad start in life: not just due to lack of food and medical needs, but warmth and affection, comfort and health care.

Mothers and fathers who fight each other, and brothers and sisters who selfishly beat the little ones and never defend them from aggression and abuse.

Sexual abuse is common even in good homes where fathers and mothers are well-educated. Fathers who beat their wives also brutalise the mothers of their children.
His children are very likely to become wife-beaters, having been addicted as boys to the abuse of women.

When we drive in town we see a never-ending number of destitute children and starving orphans.

At traffic lights they stop us to find left-overs in rubbish bins, and street kids are scolded and shouted at as if they were rats.

One of the great evils in our world of abuse of children and misuse of animals is child slavery.

And there again the abuse is so bad for little boys, rarely little girls even, who are used as child soldiers.

Such victims of being used, even at an early age, are not only frequently exposed to horrible physical damage and death, but they become disfigured also on the psychological, as well as on the human and moral level.

A small boy who learnt how to shoot and kill may never un-learn such a cruel skill and sheer inhumanity.

He may handle guns as a means of pleasure for the rest of his life and make killing his murderous trade to which he gets addicted.

What can we do about this horror? Send the police around to arrest these child abusers? No.

Every child must be respected by their elders as a precious human being, mwana anokosha — this spirit must live in all our hearts.

If children are worth nothing, may be beaten and aborted before being born, who will honour and respect children even in their mothers’ wombs.

An aborted embryo found on a rubbish heap will not be saved and rescued as a human being.

Which also means, among other things, that we, as members of the human race, do not respect ourselves, and one another.

As long as throwing foetuses away is a human right, as long they have no protection, and people do not know the rank and dignity of such children, whether before or after birth, such anonymous beings will not enjoy being respected by the people who brought them into this world.

But the more we give our children all possible chances of survival they will live with ever greater chances of jumping across to safe havens, havens of love.

If you want to make children appreciative of their privileges of being alive they will celebrate more the beauty of their being and the charm of their innocence.

Let them all surround themselves with flowers of beauty and gifts of goodness and love. We learn finally that love is taught by tenderness, forgiveness and healing.

 Fr Oskar Wermter SJ is a social commentator. He writes in his personal capacity

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