As recent events unfolded in the U.S., I found myself asking: "Did we forget?"
Did we forget that every child has inalienable rights?
Did we forget what happens when you deny a child those rights?
Did we forget that labels like "migrant" and "refugee" do not diminish the inherent value of a life?
It seems we have.
We've forgotten that protecting the rights of a child is a responsibility, not an option.
Somewhere along the line, we've forgotten that human lives are worth more than policies and laws. We've forgotten that protecting the rights of a child is a responsibility, not an option.
I'd like to believe that what happened south of the border is an isolated example of our moral duty bearers forgetting these truths.
I'd like to believe that after this news cycle, which has filled our timelines and televisions with images of toddlers screaming for their parents in the dead of night, we will remember.
Remember that every child, no matter where they are born or where they live, or where they travel, has the right to safety.
Remember that almost 30 years ago, the global community came together to pass the convention on the rights of the child.
Remember that when even a single child is robbed of their future, our collective future only grows bleaker.
As Canadians, we know this. We have a shameful history of taking children from their families, and we know the intergenerational trauma that follows.
We must use all of our collective, global memory — one that includes residential schools, child soldiers and neglected orphans of war — to remember what happens when children are torn from their families, "detained" and victimized by political ideology.
But the truth is we let ourselves forget, time and time again. Because it's normal. Because it's just another story in the news.
No. The state of the world for children is not normal and it is not acceptable.
Every day, children's rights are violated, their voices muffled, and their futures discarded.
Right now, there are millions of refugee children who are not able to access education, or a safe place to call home. Millions of children have been driven from their houses, their friends and communities in search of safety. Some are forced to flee because of natural disasters and famine — others risk being exposed to brutality and violence.
Whatever the context or conflict, we — the adults, the example-setters and the decision-makers — we have an obligation to protect them.
How do we do that?
Well, let's start by acknowledging and upholding the fact that children have rights. Period.
Let's remember that children have the right to be protected from punishment, regardless of the actions of their parents or guardians.
Race, gender, legal status — none of these things eclipse the rights and freedom of any child. Yet all over the world, children seeking safety from horrifying situations are treated unjustly. Many children are forced to endure unspeakable violence, poverty and trauma in the very places where they seek refuge. Too often they are left to face these hardships alone, isolated from their loved ones.
What can we give the world's children if we can't even acknowledge their humanity?
What's at stake is a generation left without the right to flourish and pursue their dreams. The right to define their futures. Young people are inherently powerful and hold the promise to dramatically remake the world for the better. It is their creativity and innovation that will solve society's biggest challenges.
When we hurt them, we are really hurting ourselves and any hope of a better world.
But this better world can only begin when the rights of every child are realized.
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