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CHILD EXPLOITATION AND ABUSE AT ALARMING LEVELS

A rebel child soldier escorts leading members of the Forces for National Liberation rebels and Africa Union representatives during a visit to Kabezi village

On Tuesday 23 November, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a report stating that West and Central Africa has the highest number of child soldiers in the world and the most underage* victims of sexual violence. Since 2016, there has been an escalation in conflict resulting in at least 21,000 children being recruited by government forces and armed groups. The report also mentioned that more than 2,200 children have been verified as victims of sexual violence, 3,500 children abducted and at least 1,500 attacks on schools and hospitals. The UNICEF also reported that more than 57 million children in the region need humanitarian assistance. Such tragic statistics are not unique to Africa. In Afghanistan, since the Taliban assumed control on 15 August, billions of dollars in Afghan assets were frozen abroad and most international aid halted, food prices rocketed, and millions were left jobless or without pay. Due to poverty, child marriages are increasing. The UNICEF reported desperate parents promising daughters as young as 20-days old for future marriage in exchange for dowries. It is predicted that the rate of child marriage could double in the coming months. In India, child trafficking is on the rise as the COVID-19 pandemic has left millions jobless, families poverty-stricken and many children without parents – leaving them vulnerable to predators. India is also home to the highest number of sexually abused children in the world. Last year, the National Crime Records Bureau registered 43,000 offences under the Pocso Act (enacted to protect children from sexual offences), which is an average of one case every 12 minutes. Reports state that official numbers do not give exact figures as most cases go unreported.

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

WORLD

8,521 children were used as child soldiers last year
approximately 1 in 5 girls are married off before their 18th birthday
approximately 1 in 10 girls have been forced to engage in sexual acts

A few years ago, Dr Bryant Myers, Director of World Vision’s MARC Ministries, made a presentation concerning the numbers and conditions of children and youth throughout the world. He reported that nearly 85% of people who decide to follow Christ do so between the ages of 4 and 14. This became known as the “4/14 Window”. In 2011, people under 18 years made up 29.3% – more than a quarter of the world’s population. One of the reasons we should be concerned about the state of children in the world is because they are the future of the Church and missions. The enemy knows how ‘soft’ and receptible children’s hearts are to God’s love and His gospel, so he strategically targets them when they are at their most vulnerable. Based on scripture, we know that children are of great value to God, and He commands His people to care for them and consider them as He does. In Luke 18:16, Jesus welcomes the little children, saying: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” thus rebuking adults who try to hinder and exclude them as less important. Adults have the responsibility to be advocates on behalf of children and to take responsibility to care for them as they would themselves. Lamentations 2:19 (NLT) says: “Rise during the night and cry out. Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord. Lift up your hands to him in prayer, pleading for your children, for in every street they are faint with hunger.” May we be found pouring our hearts out, lifting our hands and pleading on behalf of vulnerable children across the globe before God.

Please pray with us for the following:

  • For adults, organisations, and governments to put words into action in protecting children who are vulnerable to abduction, forced conscription, abuse, and marriage.
  • For His Church to be at the forefront of practically caring for the world’s most vulnerable children
  • For children (especially those who have been traumatised at the hands of others) to experience the love and restorative power of Christ and come to know their Heavenly Father

* underage – a person too young to legally engage in a particular activity (specific ages can differ from country to country)

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Image: REUTERS/Jean Pierre Aime Harerimana

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