Archive for the tag “United Nations”

Syria: The sounds of war echo in the children’s ears

Syrian children are being crippled by the ongoing violence in their country. The war has become “the biggest humanitarian tragedy since the Rwandan genocide,” says UN refugees commissioner Antonio Guterres. An estimated 3 million Syrians have fled the country, 6.5 million are displaced within the country, and 3 million more need humanitarian help.

Our humanitarian partner, BGR, shares this compelling story:

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — With dirt on her face, the small girl shyly approached the crowd holding a pack of lighters for sale. Barely reaching the height of an adult’s waist, she glanced upward at passersby asking in Arabic if they would purchase one of her multicolored lighters. When asked how old she was, she responded shyly that she was 4.

Walking the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, it is impossible to miss the children weaving through the cars and crowds. They walk up to strangers holding items to sell, such as lighters, roses, gum packets and a variety of non-essential items.

As each day passes of the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011, the childhood and futures of many Syrian children are threatened.

The conflict erupted into a full-scale war that has destroyed homes and schools — and left the children’s innocence in the rubble. Children have watched as they lost family members and as explosions destroyed their schools. Some have experienced physical wounds themselves.

More than 5 million Syrian children are affected by the ongoing conflict, and it is estimated that more than half of the 2.2 million Syrian refugees are children, the UN says.

As many families have been internally displaced, children are forced to begin to work to help provide for their families, are recruited for the militia or are advised to stay in doors to not be harmed. Some children have been out of school for three years and are forgetting what they have previously studied.

Rayan* works for a ministry in Syria whose sole initiative is to provide education and trauma therapy to children. She explains how many of the children have lost their fathers and brothers to the war, the men fighting on either side of the forces.

While the teachers provide the children with the opportunity to learn English, Arabic and math, the teachers also believe it is important to teach the children not to have hatred or suspicion of one another and learn to love each other.

“Children feel like they are rejected. They are feeling [this] because they are children of rebels or terrorists and feel conflicted,” Rayan said. “People tell them they are the reason for why everything is happening. But I say, ‘You are children. God loves you. You are not the reason for what has happened; you are the hope of Syria.’”

In addition to the threat of young boys being involved in the fighting, girls face the risk of sexual violence. Desperate not to subject their daughters to potential horrors, many families are deciding to marry their daughters to suitors in Syria and abroad. Early marriage sometimes is used as a “cover” for sexual exploitation, a recent report from Save the Children said. The girls are “divorced” after a short time and sent back to their families.

Outside of Syria, children face a different type of potential harm.

An increasing number of children have taken to the streets of Lebanon to sell or beg for money. Lebanon houses more than 826,669 registered Syrian refugees, with 52 percent of them being children. Many of the children are not in school and they are resorting to street work or manual labor to help provide for themselves or their families. The UN is launching a “Back to Learning” campaign, which “provides for informal education so children don’t fall too far behind.”

Another country greatly affected by the war, Jordan, is working alongside NGOs to provide schooling for Syrian refugees. More than half a million Syrians that were registered with the UN refugee agency at the end of September, were women and children. Children from 5 to 17 make up 25 percent of the Syrian refugee population in Jordan, according to the New York Times.

Organizations throughout the region are fighting not to let this generation of children be forgotten. Faris*, a Christian Syrian, said, “We have so many kids that are growing up with the sounds of war. These kids — they shouldn’t have to listen to that. They should have a place that is peaceful and secure and not have to worry about the war. That is a big [prayer] request,” he said.

As Syrian Christians are working tirelessly to help the children around them who are struggling, organizations and ministries are working outside of Syria. The reason Rayan continues in her ministry to children in Syria is because “we want to show them that we are always available for them. We are standing with them.”

*Names changed for security reasons.

How can you help? Click here to find out.

‘Human trafficking’ is slavery

J.J. Gould makes a compelling case for calling “human trafficking” what it is: slavery.

Slaves pan for gold in Accra, Ghana. Many have children with them as they wade in water poisoned by mercury that's used in the extraction process. (CC Lisa Kristine NC)

Slaves pan for gold in Accra, Ghana. Many have children with them as they wade in water poisoned by mercury that’s used in the extraction process. (CC Lisa Kristine NC)

Gould writes at TheAtlantic.com:

RANGOON, Burma … Ma Moe, 34, and her husband lived in a suburb about an hour outside Rangoon, poor enough that on some days they had nothing to eat. A friend offered her a job as a domestic worker in China where, she was told, she could make between $100 and $200 a month. Despite her husband’s objections, she decided to go.

Near the border, her friend told her the trip would soon get rough and she should take some pills so as not to get carsick. The pills knocked her out almost immediately. When she came to, she was in a small village in China; she still doesn’t know where. Kept with a few other women in a small house, Ma Moe was then taken around to different villages where she was offered up for sale as a “wife.” After a failed escape attempt, when she was beaten by local police, a man from northern China bought her.

By now, having spent a month-and-a-half as a Burmese commodity on a Chinese black market, she could hardly eat from the stress and was emaciated. Her owner was concerned — he wanted a child — so he had Ma Moe’s blood tested; the results showed that she’s HIV-positive; and he ended up abandoning her at the bus station. With no hope of being able to get back to Burma, she prayed to die. But a young newspaper seller, fending off an attempt by another apparent trafficker to get Ma Moe to go with him, called a police hotline for trafficking victims. The police coordinated Ma Moe’s transfer to a Burmese anti-trafficking task force, and they ultimately took her home.

There’s a plain-language word for [such] horror stories … as anachronistic as it might sound: slavery. Contemporary slavery is real, and it’s terribly common — here in Burma, across Southeast Asia, and around the world.

… In the West, and particularly in the United States, slavery has long settled in the public imagination as being categorically a thing of the past.

One consequence of this is that when people apply the idea of slavery to current events, they tend to think of it as an analogy. That is, they tend to use the word to dramatize conditions that may be exploitive — e.g., terrible wages or toxic working environments — but that we’d never on their own call “slavery” if the kind of forced labor we used to call “slavery” still existed. “In 1994, when I was in the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery,” recalls [Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves], “a group came in and said they wanted the UN to declare incest a form of slavery. And we were like, incest is incest; you don’t have to call it slavery.”

But there’s an inverse consequence to seeing slavery as a thing of the past, too: It can mean having a harder time recognizing slavery when it’s right in front of us.

… The dominant rhetoric that the coalition of Christian conservatives and anti-prostitution feminists who took the lead on this issue used at the time wasn’t “slavery” but “trafficking for sexual exploitation.” Around the same time, a movement started against sweatshop labor that developed its focus not broadly on the issue of forced labor but narrowly on the conditions of the sweatshops themselves, sometimes even just on safety issues within them.

Luis CdeBaca, the U.S. ambassador at large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, sees both of these frameworks as inhibiting and, intentionally or not, ways to feel too comfortable about addressing the issues in question. “If we say the problem with domestic servants is that they’re not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, and so let’s just go out and make sure they get covered by labor laws around the world, we get to ignore, for example, the fact that domestic servants are being locked in and raped. It’s not a wage issue; it’s a crime issue. If we look at prostitution and we devolve back to the old debates about whether prostitution should be legal and regulated, should it be illegal and criminalized, we won’t say, ‘… hey, why doesn’t the 13th Amendment apply to a woman in prostitution just as much as to a woman on a farm?’ Then we end up missing the reality of modern slavery.”

***
Gould goes on to explore the complexities and opportunities of the modern battle against slavery. You can read the full text of his challenging article by clicking here.
You can find trustworthy partners to help you get involved in the fight against slavery by clicking here.

U.N. report: The most troubling violation of human rights

Recent rhetoric at the United Nations condemns criticism of Islam, but a new report from a UN task force on religious freedom — released, ironically, when Christians worldwide were observing the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church — says the far greater human rights concern is prejudice against certain religions and restrictions on the right to believe and worship as a person wishes.

Melissa Steffan reports for Christianity Today:

Nov. 9, 2012 — Restrictions on religious conversion have “become a human rights problem of great concern,” according to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Speaking to the UN General Assembly last week, Heiner Bielefeldt said those violations need to stop. He urged states to “consistently respect, protect and promote the human right to freedom of religion or belief in the area of conversion.”

Bielefeldt relayed the findings of his comprehensive report, which was distributed in August. The report analyzes “patterns of abuses that are perpetrated in the name of religious or ideological truth claims.”

In his address, Bielefeldt said some religious freedom abuses were perpetrated by state agencies, but many more were the result of widespread societal prejudices against certain religions. In addition, he said the violations against women were of particular concern.

… This is a particular problem in countries like India, where Hindu nationalists initiated attacks on Christians, 20 of whom were arrested for celebrating baptisms, in Orissa in October. A similar attempt to force Christians to convert back to Hinduism occurred in September.

CT has previously noted the case of Ethiopian Christians who were detained and pressured to convert to Islam in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, CT noted the arrests of 12 people in India for converting to Christianity without notifying government officials first.

You can read the UN press release about the report by clicking here. The full text of the report can be found by clicking here.

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It is true that some people who claim to be Christians behave hatefully toward those who do not share their religion, but anyone who reads the teachings of Jesus knows that is not authentic Christianity and that the vast majority of Christian teachers tell followers Jesus requires them to love their enemies and bless those who persecute them.

By the same token, extreme strains of Hinduism and even Buddhism restrict anyone who teaches other beliefs and punish anyone who leaves those religions to follow another path. In the world of Islam, however, ordinary Muslims discriminate against and persecute followers of other faiths and Islamic teachers in unnumbered villages tell their adherents that anyone who leaves Islam for another way deserves to die. By far, the greatest discrimination and persecution is experienced by people who choose to follow Jesus.

You don’t have to look far to find evidence that followers of Jesus, by the hundreds of thousands, suffer every day at the hands of dark-hearted individuals. Christian girls are abducted, raped, and “permitted” to “convert” to the religion of their rapist. Young men who “disgrace” their families by deciding to follow Jesus are beheaded in front of the entire village. In many places, Christians are not allowed to own land or hold jobs, except as slave labor to wealthy men of the dominant religion. So-called “blasphemy” laws, instead of protecting a vulnerable religious tradition, most often are used as a club to steal the property of Christians or settle grudges against them.

None of this is surprising. Ignorance and false teaching are widespread, and prejudice is actively promoted in many houses of “worship.” Jesus told his followers they would be hated by everyone. But even the thin gruel of a statement like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to change his religion or belief and to practice it.

Religious discrimination and atrocities of persecution must be vigorously opposed, and followers of Jesus have an obligation to protect and assist brothers and sisters in distress. You can make a difference through organizations like International Justice Mission, International Christian Concern, and Christian Solidarity International.

The US government is actively undermining religious liberty in the United States. You can learn more about that from our friends at The Becket Fund and The Manhattan Declaration.

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