On International Children’s Day – celebrated June 1st – the Sovereign Order of Malta and the Embassy of the Czech Republic organized a conference in the Magistral Villa, Rome, for raising awareness on the drama of children who are victims of armed conflicts.
Opening the conference, attended by representatives of the European Union, Council of Europe, UNICEF, the Holy See as well as representatives of the Czech Republic’s government and various ambassadors, the Order of Malta’s Grand Hospitaller Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel expressed deep concern for the current situation, emphasizing that children remain the first victims of wars and persecutions. In armed conflicts around the world, children and adolescents are subjected to egregious violations, such as sexual violence, killing and maiming, abduction, and recruitment and use as child soldiers. The day-to-day lives of these children are further disrupted by attacks on their schools and hospitals, and by the denial of humanitarian assistance.
Bearing in mind that the need to extend particular care to the child has been stated in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 and in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1959, the Order of Malta carries out numerous activities to help children who are victims of conflicts worldwide.
Due to its status as a neutral, apolitical and independent institution and its humanitarian role and ongoing activities in 120 countries, the Sovereign Order of Malta is able to conduct extensive humanitarian activities with unrestricted and protected access especially in crisis regions.
- In Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, the medical teams of Malteser International – the Order of Malta’s International Relief Agency – assist children displaced by the war in Syria. Since August 2014, Malteser International in cooperation with its local partners has provided medical treatment to around 45,000 sick, wounded and displaced people, as well as distributed emergency aid and hygiene kits with essential aid supplies to almost 10,000 people.
In addition, to ease integration into foreign school systems, Malteser International runs the temporary educational center in partnership with the Syrian NGO “The Orient Face” providing children in Turkey the chance to attend temporary school classes after which they will be integrated into a newly opened Turkish school in the upcoming academic year. This aid enables children secure their future by learning a profession or even going on to study, even while coping as refugees in a foreign country.
- In Bethlehem, in the Middle East, it manages the Holy Family Hospital where 3,500 babies are born every year. This is the only health facility for mothers and children in the entire area, where the Israeli-Palestine conflict has forced poverty and hardship on the local population.
- In Myanmar Malteser International has been implementing a project providing medical care to approximately 23,000 Karen and Burmese refugees in two refugee camps – Mae Ra Ma Luang and Mae La Oon – at the Thai-Myanmar border since 1993. For more than 20 years, residents from Myanmar, mostly from the Karen ethnic group, have been fleeing to Thailand to seek refuge from human rights abuses and conflict between armed opposition groups and the Myanmar military.
- In various African countries afflicted by wars such as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malteser International is providing an ever-growing number of children with food in order to alleviate the greatest need. In the South Sudanese capital Juba, the Order of Malta provides 2,000 children with a warm meal each day during school and a further 3,000 children in the city of Wau will also receive school meals in the immediate future.
- In Europe, and especially in Germany, the Order of Malta also looks after unaccompanied migrant children. For 27 years it has been running numerous reception centres with 20,000 beds, where minors receive psychological support, healthcare and access to education.
- In Sievierodonetsk in the Ukrainian region of Donbass, Malteser International built a center for psychosocial care and mental health with specially equipped therapy rooms available for the work with children. Around 47,000 displaced people currently live in the city making up around a third of the total population
The numbers reveal the dramatic consequences for young people exposed to war. This continually growing phenomenon has to date displaced 30 million children worldwide, exposed to every form of violence, abuse and exploitation. Overall an estimated 230 million children have had their lives devastated by armed conflicts. On a global level, 28% of the victims of human trafficking are children. In 2016, in Europe alone, one asylum seeker out of three was a minor. Again, in 2016, nine out of ten children who crossed the Mediterranean Sea on ramshackle boats were unaccompanied.
The Order of Malta recalls that international co-operation for improving the living conditions of children in every country, in particular in the developing countries, should remain of the highest importance and reaffirms its commitment to the alleviate the suffering of children falling victim to armed conflicts and the safeguarding of their rights.
The International Day for Protection of Children is observed in many countries as Children's Day on 1 June since 1950. It was established by the Women's International Democratic Federation on its congress in Moscow (4 November 1949).
The United Nations Universal Children’s Day was established in 1954 and is celebrated on November 20th each year. The UN adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child on 20 November 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child 20 November 1989.
For further information regarding the international legislative framework, please see the Handbook for International Standards of Action