refugee children…lost childhood

The just ended 20th century occasionally has been called the “Century of the Child”. The progress in medical, social, educational and cultural issues, promotes the awareness and consideration towards children.Nevertheless looking at that issue globally children and their views are a neglected topic. Still today children are tended to be seen as dependents without any special needs. To prepare children for their lives, parents, families, societies and the world owes a lot to them.
The needs of all children should be a priority! The 1924 Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child states, that “the child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress!”

Elsewhere the last century and continuously the 21st century is called the “Century of Refugees”. What do these tow characteristics of the past century have in common?

Refugees are legally defined as people who are outside of their countries because of well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, and who cannot or do not want to go home. Children are not really my first association reading this definition. All of us would hope that a child would not have yet experienced fear of persecution. What should a child know about race and religion? Children should not be judged based on nationalities or politics.
Unfortunately statistics uncover a shocking reality: almost 50 million children live all around the world as refugees. Many thousands of them have been separated from their families by war. Estimated two to five percent of the refugee population in camps are separated children.

The application of the above given definition of a refugee to refugee children, to separated children in particular, raises difficulties. The point of reference, e.g. in the qualification of “well-founded fear” is the head of the family. But if the child does not have parents, because he or she lost them on the run or because they got killed, there will be no reference!

At the moment there is no universally accepted definition of the term “refugee children”. The majority of refugees in the world are children. They have experienced events that will scare them for life – war, savage murders, exploitation. Some children are kidnapped by soldiers to either serve the army or serve as sex-slaves. They are abused, raped and tortured. With their families they have lost the only remaining link in the middle of conflict, chaos and rootlessness. And without their families they are even more invisible, ignored.

More than anything else refugee children need the guarantee of the protection of their healthy human development. Being first and foremost children they need special attention in the areas of health, nutrition and education. A refugee child’s risk of being exposed to exploitation and abuse is enormously increasing when the child got separated from his or her parents. Family unity is one of the most important principles in the work with refugee children.

Often foster families are a possibility to secure a reliable social structure for the separated child. If refugees are the most vulnerable group among the worlds downtrodden, than refugee children are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Millions of children should not be deprived of their childhood as a result of becoming a refugee. However I don’t think children ever will fit in a definition of the term “refugee children” created by adults, officials and politicians, who never experienced what a refugee children lives through.

It is essential, that refugee children are tried to be seen as children with their special ways to see, think and feel. In addition they need to be taken serious as equal members of society with inalienable rights – one of them is to grow up like a children!

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