Children never create wars but sadly they happen to be the worst victims of wars! Today as geopolitical tensions are peaking and the refugee crisis has snowballed into a full-blown flashpoint, over 69 million people have been displaced globally to evade persecution, war and violence. In 2017, conflicts and disasters around the world left an estimated 201 million people in need of international humanitarian assistance in order to survive.
Two-thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Worst still, more than half of the refugees the world over are children. These children are at an unprecedented risk of trafficking for forced labor, slavery, sexual abuse, prostitution, child marriages, illegal organ transplantations and recruitment as child combatants with unabated violence in the offing.
While several frontline host countries in the MENA region have been reeling under pressure to accommodate the refugees and provide them with shelter, food, medical assistance and sanitation, many of the countries have started shutting doors for the uninvited guests or those who have overstayed their welcome for that matter.
Some time back, I visited a Syrian refugee locality near Istanbul. I was shocked to meet a father who was fixing his 12-years-old daughter’s marriage with a 60-year-old man. When I asked him why he was pushing his daughter to hell, he replied: “I lost my elder daughter. She was 14 and was abducted. We have not been able to find her. My younger son works at an auto workshop. Only by marrying her I can ensure her safety.”
We all know how Rohingya children are being killed and burnt alive while their mothers and sisters are raped. I am sure this is not the world that we want to leave for the generations to come. Clearly, childhoods have to be reconstructed and restored before it’s all too late.
The prosperous oil-producing nations of the Gulf, besides being great architects of the magnificent Arab world, also have large hearts brimming with compassion to make this world fertile for humanity. In recent years, Gulf states’ contribution to global humanitarian government aid and development has been increasing strongly both in absolute and relative terms – the GCC’s share of global humanitarian aid rose from 4 percent in 2005 to 9 percent in 2014, and on similar lines thereafter. There has been encouraging rise in the contribution towards both bilateral as well as multilateral aid by Arabs despite regional conflicts and uncertainties.
One of the loudest voices in support of a world where every child is free, safe, healthy and educated and the youth skilled and empowered came from Jordan earlier this year, where Nobel laureates and leaders had assembled, raising the chorus for investing adequately towards realizing children-related Sustainable Development Goals, without which no tangible progress can ever be achieved on the ground.
I am in Kuwait on November 18-19 at the invitation of TAKREEM to celebrate and recognize the achievements of trailblazing Arab individuals and organizations who have contributed for their communities and towards the betterment of the world. On behalf of my colleagues of laureates and leaders for children, I once again take this opportunity to call upon the compassionate leaders, governments and businesses from the Gulf to extend the fullest support to refugee children and their communities so that they are protected, sheltered and nurtured for a promising tomorrow. In these trying times, the need of the hour is not to shut the national frontiers for displaced children, but embrace them with open hearts.
In this interconnected world where no problem is isolated and no victory attributable to an individual, all of us have to walk together holding the hands of the most marginalized children and take them towards peace and light. The Arab world can take a lead in this transformation that will go a long way in reconstructing hope and restoring childhoods, thereby building a better world.
NOTE: The author is an internationally acclaimed child rights activist and 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate
By Kailash Satyarthi