Jesus christ a pioneer for the cause of children
RACHEL Here we are again in Nazareth, where Jesus Christ as a youth grew in strength, wisdom and grace, and where Emisoras Latinas continues to converse with him. Jesus, you were a child here. Tell us what life was like for children in your day.
JESUS What can I tell you, Rachel? We had to work even when we were very small. If you weren’t tending sheep or goats, you were trampling grapes. We learned to sow and to mill grain …
RACHEL Today there are international conventions that speak of the Rights of Children. And in your time?
JESUS In my time there were no rights, just wrongs. Children were lumped in the same category with sick people, slaves and women. They came last in line. The only value of little kids was … that some day they would be big.
RACHEL And the little girls?
JESUS It was worse for them. The girls grew up, and … even then they had no value. Look at those two kids running there. Hey, youngsters, come over here!
GIRL Are you tourists?
JESUS She’s a reporter.
BOY My father has a beard like you.
JESUS Would you like a hair from my beard? Let’s see which one of you can yank it out!
RACHEL You’re like a father with his children. You never had your own children? You never wanted to have them?
JESUS What tree doesn’t want to leave its seeds, Rachel?
GIRL Hey you, what’s your name?
GIRL And what’s hers?
JESUS Rachel. And what’s your name?
JESUS And yours?
JESUS Samira and William. Those names didn’t exist in my time.
GIRL Do you know how to tell stories?
JESUS Stories? I know a thousand stories! I also know some riddles!
RACHEL Excuse me, Jesus Christ, but getting back to the question of your children….
GIRL His name isn’t Jesus Christ, he’s called Jesus.
MOTHER Hey, children! Where have you been? Samira, William! Come here and stop bothering those people.
CHILDREN He’s going to tell us a story!
JESUS Go ahead, go with your mother. Come back later for the story.
RACHEL You get along well with children, don’t you?
JESUS I always enjoyed talking with them. Once a girl like Samira explained to me when it is that the mountain goats give birth and where the hawks make their nests. The thing is, Rachel, children don’t just learn, they also teach.
RACHEL We have a call coming in,… Hello?
PIRON I am Claude Piron, a psychologist. I’ve been listening to your program and I’m delighted with it. Two thousand years have passed, and I see that Jesus Christ is still the same, a revolutionary.
RACHEL Why do you say that, Monsieur Piron?
PIRON Because the idea that children are full citizens is a very recent idea in our culture. Until the 20th century, adults viewed children as little animals that they had to domesticate. It never even occurred to anybody that children are valuable in themselves. But of course it did occur to Jesus Christ.
RACHEL Thanks to our psychologist friend, Claude Piron, who just called. So, Jesus, from what I hear, you were ahead of your times.
JESUS Or maybe it’s just that they were lagging behind!
RACHEL What do you mean, “they”?
JESUS The ones in our little group. I remember once when we were talking in Capernaum and some little children came along. James, John and Peter got upset “Get out of here, you’re bothering us. We’re talking about serious things here.”
RACHEL And what did you do?
JESUS I called the children over. “Stay here,” I told them. And I warned Peter and the others “The little ones will be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. And you guys, if you don’t become like children, will be left outside.”
RACHEL Well, look, here come those two again…
JESUS Samira and William…
RACHEL We’re going to sign off from the program, and you, Jesus, can tell them the story you promised them. From Nazareth, this is Rachel Perez for Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
In Jesus’ time, children had no rights and were considered to be of little worth, but they had many responsibilities. And girls were valued even less than boys; they were said to be a “false treasure.” Sons and daughters were thought to be a blessing from God, but that blessing became real only when they “grew up”, which they did very soon, at 12 years of age. As regards religious rights and duties, the small value placed on children was demonstrated by their inclusion in a formula that was common in the writings of that epoch: “the deaf-and-dumb, the dull of mind, and those who are underage”. Children were also grouped along with old people, the sick, slaves, women, handicapped people, homosexuals and the blind.
The rights of boys and girls
The first statement of the rights of boys and girls was the “Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child”, framed by Eglantyne Jebb in 1924. In 1919 Jebb had founded the international organization Save the Children, which was dedicated to assisting and representing the millions of children in Europe who had become refugees or were displaced after the First World War. It was the first NGO to devote itself to the cause of children.
Jebb’s pioneering text was approved by the League of Nations on December 26, 1924. In 1948 the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which implicitly included the rights of children. In the following years there was a growing conviction that the specific needs of childhood needed to be enunciated and protected in a more explicit way.
In 1959 the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the “Declaration on the Rights of the Child”, which contained ten principles. In 1989 the U.N. ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been adopted by all the countries of the world except the United States and Somalia. In 1991 the Committee for the Rights of the Child was created in the U.N. for the purpose of supervising the implementation of the Convention throughout the world. The Committee is made up of ten international human rights experts from different countries and different juridical systems. Their job is to review the periodical reports from governments on the situation of children’s rights and to make recommendations to the governments on behalf of children everywhere. The Committee also launches its own initiatives. In 2002, for example, it promoted a global campaign to increase awareness of the harm caused by inflicting corporal punishment on children.
Ten principles, ten rights
The ten principles of the Rights of Boys and Girls, formulated in a way that children will understand, are as follows:
1. We have the right to enjoy our rights, without regard to the color of our skin, the language we speak, the religion we practice, the ideas we have, the country we were born in, or how much money our family has.
2. We have the right to enjoy the opportunity to fully develop our bodies and our minds and to grow up in freedom and with dignity.
3. From birth we have the right to a name and a nationality.
4. We have the right to good healthcare, good nutrition, a house to live in, and time to play.
5. If we suffer from some disability of body or mind, we have the right to special care.
6. We have the right to be loved and cared for, above all in our own family. We should also be cared for by the larger society and the government.
7. We have the right to an education that is not boring and that makes us learned, skilled, responsible, and useful to society. And such education should be free and obligatory at the basic levels.
8. In any disaster or conflict we have the right to be the first to receive aid and protection.
9. We have the right to be protected against all neglect, cruelty and abuse, and we should not be obliged to work if the work damages our health or hinders our development.
10. We have the right to be taught to be generous toward other people and to work for world peace.
Despite the declarations…
Despite all the declarations, conventions, principles, and codes of rights, the situation of children on this planet we all share continues to be a tremendous challenge. Using various sources of information gathered from all over the world, the Spanish journalist José Manuel Martín Medem has written a frightening book, The War against Children (Editorial El Viejo Topo, Barcelona 1998).
This dedicated journalist describes in his book the extreme violence that our world, which fancies itself to be civilized, inflicts on boys and girls in countless ways: sex industry, tribal wars, the trafficking of organs, sexual abuse in the home, slave labor, illegal adoptions, domestic servitude, sweatshops, etc. In this introduction the author states: In this war the most lethal arms are directed against girls, who are the daughters of misery: they suffer not only the neglect experienced by all marginalized people, but also the discrimination and violence experienced by almost all women. The protection of children appears to be making some progress, and the declarations and the promises appear to have some effect, but the most helpful advice we can give to children continues to be the this: “Don’t believe what they tell you, but what they do to you.”
Pioneer in a time when there were no rights
Just as Jesus had a truly revolutionary attitude toward women, his attitude toward children must have astonished the society of his time. He taught that the Kingdom of God was for “children” and for “those who become children”. That means that the Kingdom belongs to those who are not taken into account by society. And it means that Jesus made children, precisely as children, the privileged citizens of the Kingdom of God, thus declaring that them to be closer to God than are adults. For Jesus children had value not for what they would be when they grew up, but for what they were as little ones. This attitude of Jesus has no precedent in the traditions of his ancestors.
Claude Piron is a Swiss psychotherapist and linguist, a university professor, and a specialist in intercultural themes. He participates in our program to highlight the novelty of Jesus’ message and attitude regarding children. Piron’s ideas about present-day childhood can be found in the article “We are responsible for the drama of the child-sun” at www.envio.org.ni.
What children teach us
There are many excellent films about how much boys and girls can teach adults. Jesus would love them, for they confirm his intuition that the Kingdom of God belongs to the little ones and that we can learn from them to be more human. We mention one of these films in particular, “The Color of Paradise” (2000), by the Iranian director Majid Majidi, in which a blind boy is also a child-teacher. Commenting on this film, the critic Julio Rodriguez Chico writes: Upon seeing this and other Iranian films, so full of beauty and love of life, the viewer experiences a natural desire to cry out for these lives and these lands to be spared, to beg older people to learn from children to take a good look and not remain in the war-induced blindness that prevents them from seeing the color of paradise.