I have been an advocate of children for many years, and know that children are truly a precious gift. To me, children represent the ultimate innocence, and the only time they stray from this is when society has exposed them to something that carved away at that innocence. I recognize that children are the future, and should be the most valued asset on earth. But there are things in our society that troubles me about children.
As a children’s advocate, Janusz Korczak spoke of the need for a Declaration of Children’s Rights long before any such document was drawn up by the Geneva Convention ( Korczak: 1924) or the United Nations General Assembly (Korczak: 1959). Korczak was a Polish-Jewish children’s writer and educator. His dedication to destitute children was legendary long before the WWI.
It was Janusz Korczak who trained teachers in what is now called moral education, and worked in juvenile courts defending children’s rights. He also wrote King Matt the First, which tells the adventures of a boy king who aspires to bring reforms to his subjects.
“Korczak felt that within each child there burned a moral spark that could vanquish the darkness at the core of human nature. To prevent that spark from being extinguished, one had to love and nurture the young, make it possible for them to believe in truth and justice” *
Janusz Korczak’s Declaration of Children’s Rights
Korczaak did not complete the declaration before his death, but Betty Jean Lifton extracted from “How to Love a Child”, “The Child’s Right to Respect”, and other works, the rights that Korczak considered most essential. They included:
- The child has the right to love. (Korczak: “Love the child, not just your own.”)
- The child has the right to respect. (Korczak: “Let us demand respect for shining eyes, smooth foreheads, youthful effort and confidence, Why should dulled eyes, a wrinkled brow, untidy gray hair, or tired resignation command greater respect?”)
- The child has the right to optimal conditions in which to grow and develop. (Korczak: “We demand: do away with hunger, cold, dampness, stench, overcrowding, overpopulation .”)
- The child has the right to live in the present. (Korczak: “Children are not people of tomorrow; they are people today.”)
- The child has the right to be himself or herself. (Korczak: “A child is not a lottery ticket, marked to win the main prize.”)
- The child has the right to make mistakes. (Korczak: “There are no more fools among children than among adults.”)
- The child has the right to fail. (Korczak: “We renounce the deceptive longing for perfect children.”)
- The child has the right to be taken seriously. (Korczak: “Who asks the child for his opinion and consent?”)
- The child has the right to be appreciated for what he is. (Korczak: “The child, being small, has little market value.”)
- The child has the right to desire, to claim, to ask. (Korczak: “As the years pass, the gap between adult demands and children’s desires becomes progressively wider.”)
- The child has the right to have secrets. (Korczak: “Respect their secrets.”)
- The child has the right to have respect for his possessions and budget. (Korczak: “Everyone has the right to his property, no matter how insignificant or valueless.”)
- The child has the right to education.
- The child has the right to resist educational influence that conflicts with his or her own beliefs. (Korczak: “It is fortunate for mankind that we are unable to force children to yield to assaults upon their common sense and humanity.”)
- The child has the right to protest an injustice. (Korczak: “We must end despotism.”)
- The child has the right to a Children’s Court where he can judge and be judged by his peers. (Korczak: “We are the sole judges of the child’s actions, movements, thoughts, and plans . . . I know that a Children’s Court is essential….”)
- The child has the right to be defended in the juvenile-justice court system. (Korczak: “The delinquent child is still a child …. Unfortunately, suffering bred of poverty spreads like lice: sadism, crime, uncouthness, and brutality are nurtured on it.”)
- The child has the right to demand respect for his grief. (Korczak: “Even though it be for the loss of a pebble.”)
- The child has the right to commune with God.
- The child has the right to die prematurely. (Korczak: “The mother’s profound love for her child must give him the right to premature death, to ending his life cycle in only one or two springs . . . Not every bush grows into a tree.”)”
This is quite a remarkable list of rights. Take a moment and review them. Take a moment to evaluate whether your children has these rights. Consider whether all the children in the U.S. have these rights. Even more so, take a moment to reflect whether the children all across the world have these rights.
I think you will conclude the world has done a disservice against the children of the world. So I would like to ask you – why? How is it in this world that our children are assaulted by vicious, reprehensible crimes? Just think about some of these crimes:
What do you think happens to the innocence of a child after one of these crimes have been done to them? What is their life like and what will their future look like?
The protection of the children of the world is our responsibility. Take a look at some of the statistics:
- In 2006: There were 3.3 million reports of child abuse and neglect in the United States involving 6 million children.
- More than 900,000 children were confirmed victims of abuse or neglect.
- More than 1,500 children died from maltreatment.
- At least four children die from abuse or neglect every day
- The national rate of child fatalities rose steadily from 1999 to 2006, from 1.62/100,000 to 2.04/100,000.
I ask each of you if you care about our future, take a stand and allow our children to keep their innocence. Make an investment into the future. Help a child. Keep that moral spark alive.
Who Was Janusz Korczak” by Betty Jean Lifton http://www.thehypertexts.com/Janusz_Korczak.htm Author of The King of Children: The Life and Death of Janusz Korczak
Lifton, B.J. (1988) The King of Children: A biography of Janusz Korczak. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
*The King of the Children – A Biography of Janusz Korczakby Betty Jean Lifton; published in 1988 by Schocken Books, New York.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration on Children Youth & Families. Child Maltreatment 2007 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2009). Retrieved April 3 2009 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb
Historical information is provided by Wikipedia.
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