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UNICEF/Argentina/Rey

Carla waits for a check-up in a health centre in Resistencia, Argentina.

 

 

 

 

UNICEF/Argentina/Rey

On the streets of Buenos Aries.

 

 

Panel 6

The vortex where values are worthless by Ernesto Sábato*

Commission of Personalities for Children and Adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean, September 2000

The appalling neglect to which children are exposed is glaring evidence that we live in an age of immorality. This aberration pulls us into the vortex where the words of Nietzsche seem to ring true: “Values have ceased to be worth anything.”

For all humankind, it is shameful and criminal that there are more than two hundred and fifty million exploited children in the world. We see them rummaging in garbage for a scrap of food or groping in the darkness for a place to sleep. How shameful! How have we allowed this to happen? Some of these children are forced into prostitution. Others, many of them as young as five or six, are forced to spend long, exhausting days labouring in filthy workshops. The lucky ones make a few cents. Many others work under conditions of slavery or semi-slavery, with no legal or medical protection. They suffer from infectious diseases, injuries, or amputations, and endure abuses of every kind. They are found as much in the great cities of the world as in the poorest countries. In Latin America, there are fifteen million exploited children. In our own cities, children are murdered for one hundred or two hundred dollars, or kidnapped and killed so that their organs can be sold to the world’s laboratories. The pain and the cruelty to which we have condemned these children are beyond measure! And this open wound on the streets of the world is evidence enough that part of our humanity has been eclipsed.

These children have been so mistreated that in their eyes we discern, not the natural innocence of childhood, but the fear and the deep, eternal mistrust of those forced to spend their earliest years without parents. These millions of children are denied not only the protection of their own families, but also the protection of us all, the men and women of the world who look upon their helplessness with indifference. The horrors of their early years will mark them for the rest of their lives.

These boys and girls know nothing of the magnificent feeling that is experienced by those of us able to contemplate a future filled with possibilities. The abandoned children of our modern societies have been so cruelly abused that they believe in nothing. And not one of us can guarantee them a life of dignity.

We cannot simply stand by and accept the wickedness of a system whose only miraculous achievement has been somehow to concentrate more than four-fifths of the world’s wealth in the hands of a fifth of the world’s population, while millions of children around the world die of hunger in the most wretched misery.

That is why we say to the world’s leaders --beg of them, demand of them! -- that they fulfil the promises that each and every one of them has made. The care of our children cannot be regarded as just another task. It must be understood as the essential and only way for a faltering humankind to recover its way. No endeavor is worthier of encouragement than this one. Anything that we can do for the world’s children is imperative, urgent. Governments must understand that our destiny depends on our taking care of the world’s children during their early years; this task is crucial to the consolidation of democracy and the future of humanity.

To exercise power without humanity is to engender violence of a kind that cannot be fought against with weapons. If we are to prevail over such violence, we must create a greater sense of solidarity. It is imperative that the world’s leaders assume full responsibility for the grave task of caring for the well-being of children — protecting them and preparing them to build, alongside their brothers and sisters, a world worthy of human nobility.

The look in the eyes of these children represents the only mandate to which we must respond. The desolation of that look is a crime that calls our humanity into question.

Let us heed the words of Dostoyevsky: “We are all guilty before everybody, for everybody, and for everything.” Let us step forward to defend the rights of the world’s children, who have been denied the care they so desperately need during their earliest years.

We cannot avoid this responsibility.

These children belong to us, as if they were our own. They must become the primary motivation for our struggles, and the most genuine of our endeavours.

* Ernesto Sabato, an Argentine nuclear physicist and humanist, has earned international acclaim as a novelist.

 

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