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Global statistics on children in crisis

The Oxford Statement on
Children at Risk
January 6 - 10, 1997

From January 6 - 10, 1997, 51 representative of 38 different ministries to children at high risk from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America came together to an International Consultation on Children at Risk in Oxford, England. As a product of this conference, the following declaration has been drafted and agreed upon.

1.0 Background

We feel it necessary to draw attention to the increasingly vulnerable position of our world's children. We affirm that all children are at risk from the very moment of their conception. Even within our own families, we are aware of the destructive effects that the rough edge of society can inflict on our children.

However, it is for the neglected and exploited children of our generation that our hearts cry out. We can no longer stand by and watch them suffer and die in their millions while their enemies are left free to stalk them on every side. The issues that face children at high risk today are not their problem, but our problem. We therefore identify the following areas of concern and shall commit our sweat and tears to addressing them:

Malnutrition:
Abortion:
Family Disintegration & Abandonment:
Sexual Exploitation, Rape and Abuse:
War:
Slavery and Abusive child labour:
Drug and Alcohol abuse:
Disease:
Disability:
Suicide:
 
35,000 children (under the age of 5) die every day as a result of malnutrition or starvation [World Vision].
 
 
Every year 40,000,000 children lose their lives through parental consent [UN]. This means that 29% of all children are never born.
 
 
There are at least 100,000,000 children who live or work on the streets of our cities [UNICEF, 1994]. Most of these children are confronting the dangers of life in this hostile environment as a result of family breakdown.
 
 
There are at least 10,000,000 children currently suffering the oppression of forced prostitution and another 1,000,000 join this industry every year [World Vision, UNICEF].
 
 
During the period 1984 to 1994, more than 1,500,000 children were killed in wars, over 4,000,000 were disabled, maimed, blinded or brain damaged by wars and 12,000,000 lost their homes as the result of war. During this period, 35 nations are known to have conscripted children into their armed forces [Save the Children, 1994].
 
 
Between 100,000,000 and 200,000,000 children are currently involved in child labour [UN Children's Fund].
 
 
75% of British 15-16 year old school children report that they have used cannabis, and 3% have taken heroin [(1) Health Education Association 1987, (2) Manchester University research project].
 
 
1,500,000 children are currently infected with AIDS [WHO/UNICEF, 1994]. 2,000,000 children die every year through lack of immunisation against preventable diseases [World Vision].
 
 
Over 500,000 children go blind every year, mostly as a result of vitamin A deficiency. Only one in every 60 of these children has access to education. [Christoffel-Blindemission].
 
 
Today's children face a level of psychological pressure totally unknown to previous generations. Faced with unattainable goals and a culture with few answers, many see suicide as the logical way out.

We are compelled to challenge anyone who feels able to continue with business as usual in full knowledge of these facts. This generation of children is the future of our societies, and too many of them are dying. If there is no hope for these children, then our societies have no future. It is through the eternal hope of God's Kingdom planted in our hearts that we are able to seek solutions to such overwhelming issues. With this hope, there is a future for the children currently at risk in our generation.

The fruit of this hope can already be seen in the work of those who have relinquished personal ambition to devote themselves to the needs of children at risk. These people are the silent workers who through their daily commitment are addressing the great needs of children at risk. Like the children they serve, these people are also suffering. They are under-resourced. They are tired. They are scared. They experience continual stress. They need support. A key to the future rests in the continued commitment of these people.

2.0 Issues:

2.1 Violations of the Rights of the Child

The gross violation of the rights of children is appalling. Millions are denied the right to be born, denied the right to live, deprived of a family, deprived of opportunity, deprived of the right to know God, and are exploited and abused in unimaginable ways. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) drafted in 1989 provides a very useful and comprehensive account of rights which we commend for study in relation to this document. Children, along with all humanity, have inalienable God-given rights which must be protected so that each child can grow up wholistically as Jesus did. Each child has the right to grow in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man (Luke 2:52). This access to growth is also impaired wherever religious liberties are restricted.

2.2 Family Disintegration

God's intention is that children be nurtured within the family. However, the breakdown of families through separation, divorce, mobility and self-centredness has wounded and destabilized the child. This is worsened by changing values that give priority to material possessions above human life and development. Children are at risk when families are at risk. We grieve at how pervasive the failure of the family is today around the world. Many children are sexually abused by family members. Tragically, for many children, the home and family have become hostile, rather than nurturing environments. The family structure has been devastated by the violence of war, the dislocation of forced migration, and the blatant exploitation and abuse of children.

2.3 Poverty and Malnutrition

The largest cause of death amongst children is malnutrition. Tens of thousands die every day as a result of curable diseases caused by simple nutritional deficiencies. This malnutrition is the inevitable outcome of a poverty cycle which neither family nor child is able to escape.

2.4 Urbanisation

Due to rural poverty, family members, especially young people, migrate to cities in search of jobs and better living conditions and end up in overcrowded slum communities. Rural poverty and urban growth has thrust millions of helpless children onto the streets, over stretching the meagre resources available in the cities and exposing the children to disease, abuse and exploitation. It is very difficult to trace the roots or families of these resultant street children populations.

2.5 War and Ethnic Conflict

In many countries destabilized by ethnic conflict and political turmoil, repression and authoritarianism are growing. This results in a poor investment climate, loss of revenue, disruption of an already delicate trade and economic system, and undermines health and education services. Remaining resources are diverted for emergencies and military spending. Consequently more and more children die, are displaced, orphaned and become refugees internally and internationally. More appalling is the number of child soldiers recruited in many nations to fight in conflicts that they do not understand.

2.6 Disability

Children with disabilities are among the most neglected and abused by both families and society. Adults are often embarrassed by malformed children. Families hide them away believing that disablement is a form of curse. These children often have less access to facilities and thus have less than full participation and equality in the social and economic life of the community. Very few initiatives address the special needs of disabled children whose condition in many cases is preventable or curable.

2.7 Abusive Child Labour

We recognize that child labour is not necessarily unjust and that in many cultures family relationships are strengthened when children work along side their parents. However, poverty has meant that an increasing number of young children are being pressured into finding work so that millions of children are currently involved in forced labour which denies basic human rights. In extreme cases children have become trapped in total bondage to individuals who have no concern for their welfare.

2.8 Sex Tourism

In many countries, tourism has become the greatest source of foreign exchange. However, the depravity of humankind has eroded our respect for the dignity of children to the extent that paedophilia is almost an institutionalized practice in certain tourist spots of the world. Sexually exploited children are particularly susceptible to long-term trauma, usually well into adulthood.

2.9 Government Complicity and Corruption

The promotion of the welfare of every citizen is a responsibility of government. However, we note with great dismay that many governments have left much of the care of children at risk to NGOs and religious groups. Many governments formulate socio-economic policies which in the long term work against the promotion of children's welfare. Corruption in governments has also led to child trafficking, sexual exploitation of children and child labour.

2.10 Lack of Accountability

We are saddened that while children at risk cry out for help certain individuals have chosen to divert resources gained for the benefit of children into their own pockets, and established organizations for selfish gain. There is a need to promote a sense of accountability to God in all ministries for children at risk. At the same time mutual trust and accountability between donor and recipient organizations based upon integrity are foundational to any successful ministry.

2.11 Lack of Training of Care Givers

Appropriately equipped workers are foundational to successful ministry for children at risk. We are alarmed to note that many Christian workers in certain areas of ministry amongst children at risk do not have adequate skills, lack access to training needed, or are not encouraged to acquire the basic skills needed to work effectively with the children. Short and long-term training is required in health care, nutrition, counseling, socialization, education, vocational training, evangelism, discipleship, management and administration. Organizations should provide opportunity and structure for personnel development and in so doing contribute to building up of the body of Christ.

2.12 Care for the Care Givers

Persons who commit their efforts and lives to the service of children at risk often experience a sense of aloneness, discouragement and pain. Such wounded healers are vulnerable to burnout and to the destructive effects of oppressive pressures. Their immediate family and dependents are equally vulnerable.

2.13 Dispair and Lack of Hope

While poverty has always been with us, and children have always been at risk, children today are growing up in a different context from previous generations. Today's post-modern paradigm has caused adults and children not only to abandon hope but to embrace despair. The context of child poverty and crisis has always been spiritual as well as physical, and today is no exception.

3.0 Theological Foundations for Ministry to Children at Risk

3.1 The Biblical Significance of the Child

Scripture clearly shows that God is outraged about what is happening to children. Our own anger is but a pale reflection of God's own fury and indignance. Our compassion for hurting children and the righteous anger that arises within us reflects nothing less than the jealous love and righteous anger of our Heavenly Father. Our anger is predicated upon God's anger, and our actions on His actions. Over and over again God's warning throughout the Bible is "Don't touch my precious children!" (Ex 22:22-24; Psalm 68:5, Ezekiel 16:4-14, Deuteronomy 24:17 etc.) He indicates terrible consequences for anyone harming his children: "...it would be better that a millstone be hung around his neck and [he] be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Mt.18:6).

Nowhere do we learn more of the loving and jealous character of God than in His protection and defense of His children. (Deuteronomy 24:17, 27:19). Indeed, God entrusting His own son to humankind as a vulnerable child, requiring that Son to be nurtured by a frail but able family and community, symbolically provides a model of trust and responsibility which sets an example for His interaction with all humanity, and which shouts to us about the significance of children.

Thus we find ample justification for special possessive and protective guardianship of children at risk clearly demonstrated and mandated throughout the Scriptures. Moreover, Jesus uses the simple faith and courage which marks the heart of children as a model for adults seeking to be a part of His Kingdom:

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mk 10:14b-15 NIV).

As Christians then, we gladly acknowledge that our profound concern for children at risk flows from God himself and our commitment to Jesus Christ. Most fundamentally, we affirm that children, born and unborn, along with the rest of humanity, are created in the image of God and therefore have intrinsic worth. (Gen 1:27, Psalm 139:13-14) Any actions that demean, devalue or otherwise diminish children are sinful. Unfortunately, we live in a world where an attitude of cynicism towards the dignity of human life has resulted in a tragic loss of respect for humankind. Increasingly, children are the undeserving victims of human and demonic forces. The criminal waste of children's lives is an indictment upon all societies and cries out to God for vengeance.