For the Children's Sake

Category: Americas, Life & Society Topics: Children Views: 4258

Roberto Benigni courted controversy in his 1997 Academy Award-winning film La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) - a poignant comedy about fascism and the Holocaust in Italy. Mr. Benigni plays Guido, an Italian Jew, who seeks to protect his son from the unspeakable horrors of a concentration camp by using imagination, humor and wit. In particular, Mr. Benigni's remarkable facial expressions conveyed deep and wide-ranging emotions. Who can forget the sparkle in his eyes, the infectious smile, all of which exuded eternal optimism - even as he marched to his execution. The charade was for the sake of a son, who never once understood the tragedy unfolding around him. And what father would not do the same? 

Yet one can only wonder at the anguish felt by an Iraqi prisoner of war whose son is forbidden from seeing his face. The image was published early on in the conflict - a child being held by his father whose head is covered by a hideous black hood. Both are in a PoW camp behind barbed wire. Presumably, the child can hear his father's voice, but is denied the intimacy of reading into his eyes, or sharing a smile. And one can only imagine what the child thinks, witnessing a symbol of authority, respect and love brought low before his very eyes. Why add to the humiliation of detention by forcing the detainee to wear a hood in the presence of his son? What hope can be conveyed in such circumstances? While the Geneva Conventions stipulate that near relatives should not be separated in PoW camps, surely the spirit of the conventions implies that the parent-child relationship should be accorded dignity and respect.

International covenants regarding the treatment of children at times of conflict seem to have been put aside during the current war on terrorism. Last week, many rejoiced when Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay, were killed by U.S. missiles fired into a villa where they were hiding. But another person in the house, believed to be Qusay's teenage son Mustafa, was shot to death by troops storming the house.

In 2003, The New York Times Magazine reported on the condition of juvenile detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. These detainees include a 16-year old Canadian who is alleged to have killed a U.S. marine in Afghanistan with a grenade. Three child soldiers, between the ages of 13 and 15, are imprisoned in Camp Iguana; the adults are in Camp Delta. But the Canadian youth, along with his 17-year-old brother, have been detained in the adult camp, where, according to the Times report, conditions are harsher than solitary confinement. Notably, the Canadian government has not protested the treatment of this pair of Canadian citizens too loudly.

While all prisoners are reported to have access to health care, nutrition and full right to religious practice, the American administration has chosen not to designate these combatants as prisoners of war, thereby foregoing application of the Geneva Conventions.

Most troublesome is the condition of the juvenile "enemy combatants." The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (the CRC) specifies that detained juveniles shall have the right to legal assistance and to a court's prompt decision on their detention.

Instead, the United States has decided to keep these child prisoners in limbo - indefinite imprisonment without access to a lawyer.

The 2001 UN Secretary-General's report, We the Children, highlighted the need to promote legislation and inclusion of child protection provisions in the statutes and rules of war crimes tribunals and courts. This recommendation was part of a larger list of implementations to assist young victims of war. War Child, a network of independent organizations working across the world to help children affected by war, has compiled mind-numbing statistics. In the last decade alone, 1.5 million children have died in wars, four million have been disabled and a further 10 million traumatized.

The poet William Wordsworth observed that the "child is the father to the man," implying that childhood experiences will shape attitudes of the adult. What does the future hold when we see a generation of traumatized children in so many parts of the world? In order to counteract fear and hate engendered by conflict, we must surely be guardians for children caught in the crossfire.

Ideally, this is the purpose of a covenant such as the CRC. When nations fail to exercise their responsibility, individuals can and must step in.

In this respect, one Canadian's initiative is worth noting. Twelve-year-old Iraqi Ali Abbas lost his entire family and both his arms in a U.S. missile attack in April. The photo of Ali, lying in a hospital bed with bandaged stumps is seared in the minds of many. Dr. Falath Hafuth, a father of three based in Cambridge, Ont., has decided to sponsor Ali and his guardian as refugees to Canada. Dr. Hafuth speaks daily to the boy who, not surprisingly, is angry with the Americans. Yet, Dr. Hafuth's vision is to nurture the child with the many benefits we sometimes take for granted: "My goal is just to educate him and have continuity of health care for him. I don't want that boy to grow up with hate. I want him to be an ambassador of peace."

Such powerful individual gestures are all the more urgent - for the sake of the world's children.

Sheema Khan is chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Canada).


  Category: Americas, Life & Society
  Topics: Children
Views: 4258

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Older Comments:
Verily to Allah we belong and verily to Allah we return. Veerle - may Allah help both you and your children - ameen.

Why are you so hypocritical when it comes to treatment of prisoners by US soldiers? You never complained when Saddam killed thousands in Iraq. He imprisoned thousands in his prisons and where were you at the time. At least the prisoners in Cuba are actual prisoners of war who tortured and mistreated Afgan. people. Evidently you too are a supporter of terrorism when you complain of their treatment and you condone their actions of killing American soldiers. You obviously are anti-American and therefore are not credible with your comments. You are very bias and sympathetic to terrorism and terrorists and therefore should not be taken as an authority on child abuse during war time. You support crimes against children on one hand and condemn it on the other. You are too wishy-washy in your commentaries.

Most of the violence involving children as victims has been committed by Muslim countries. Muslims have a long history of having no consideration for human sufferings, children included. If Muslims will starve and murder their own children, what will they do to children of other religions? The religion of Islam is so extreme and distorted and changes from one tribe to the other it is hard for one to understand it totally. War and terrorism seems to be the whole purpose for its existence. This is not of God. Until Islam learns to live in peace with the rest of the world their children will continue to suffer and this is not the responsibility of the rest of the world. Islam is at fault and should be held responsible before almighty God for their actions in contributing to the suffering of little children.

essalam aleykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu,

this article shows for me exactly what people now are doing, destroying all childhood in children.

My husband , Egyptian, has been put in jail heren in belgium on charge of childabuse, which was pure lie accusations. They finally managed to kill him with medicaments in jail as they couldnt tear up the marriage we had, a Belgian woman with a stranger especially Moslim is not permitted here. How can i teach my children to be kind to those who killed their father

Allah brings solution for all Inshallah for who He chooses

Chris I agree with you with all my heart and mind.
The Americans soldiers are being killed daily and should get out of Iraq pronto, and while they are at it, they might as well start packing and leave every place where they are not welcome, not just in Iraq, and where they are running the risk to get killed. And you are right the Iraquis are being ungreatful, they only received conventional bomb on their heads...devastating bombs, but still cheap stuff compared to expensive atomic bombs dropped on others people ages ago. Hey! what do you think of the latest film of spiderman? wonder why Cheney and Rummi didn't use that guy, a true American hero.

you need to get your facts straight --you make it sound as if the Americans are heartless killers-- the Americans should get out of Iraq at once because the ungreatful Iraqis dont value human life---Americans are being killed daily during what is suppose to be peace time--Iraq is a very evil country

I think that if we invade another nation, thereby starting a war, we ought to hold ourselves accountable for the fate of that nation's defenders - as well as for the immediate welfare of its civilians. Beyond that, I can hardly help but expect an observance of Quran 4:92 could help our soldiers with making their own peace with God.

I suspect that officers in our military are suppressing a wider understanding of Islamic code - presumably out of their own religious prejudice. Perhaps a pretext for such intolerance might be that the sort of successes so recently enjoyed by our army in Fallujah apply only to rural areas - and perhaps even then only in Iraq. If so, I would say that such members of our military are themselves propagating the sort of "outside interference" I should think that by now they would have come to despise.

Surely, some of the attacks in "urban" Baghdad were incited by the same factors behind attacks in "rural" Fallujah. I find it increasingly difficult share any affinity for a chaplaincy which values a prevalence of Christian doctrine over the lives of our soldiers - to whom our chaplains (peace be with them) are presumably sworn to minister.

Jazak Allahu khair for those Muslims who have taken it upon themselves to introduce our soldiers to the security offered by something as simple as showing a little respect for the religious principles of the land they currently occupy. Rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu wa Allah hafiz.

Assalamu alaikum.

Let us pray for the Children. ALLAH's dhikr will remove all evil from their lives. Pray for all.

May Allah guide all living creatures to janna.
May he remove all evil from our hearts.
May he engender beautiful relations between all humanity.
May he send the greatest of blessing on our Rassool, his family, his companions and all of his ummah.
May he send the greatest of salam to all the Prophets of ALLAH and all the friends of ALLAH and Friends of his Rassool.
May he send us all to janna.
may he protect us from Jahanam.
May he purify our hearts and clean our minds.
May he lighten our burden and increase our ajar.
May he bless our children.
May he bless our Grandparents.
May he bless our Parents.
May he bless us.
May he bless all.
May he guide all.
May he fogive us.

Ya ghafoor ya raheem, we beseech you, Help.

AMIN! Wal hamdullilahi Rabbil Calameen.

There are extreme opposites in the muslim youth populations of today. There are those who give in to their hatred of governments and isolate themselves in masjids spreading ideological hatred. How many teenagers have you heard saying that "all non-muslims are kaffirs and deserve no mercy." They dream of jihad and beheading christians and jews. Such things are overlooked by parents as we are lured away from our children by television, political intrigue and sheer laziness.

On the other hand, there are teenagers who know nothing of the atrocities committed against their sisters and brothers around the world. They stay at home playing their gameboy and watching snoop doggy face and puffy father and a plethora of black bimbos plastered on the TV screen with very little clothes. They have been brainwashed. When told of the atrocities, they shrug their shoulders and say "got nothing to do with me." They have lost their sense of justice and replaced it with an uncaring cynicism. AND THE RAP GARBAGE IS NOT HELPING.

well it might be sad but that's how the world goes... civilian prisonners are very badly treated ALL over the planet so why should, warriors be treated better?!!!! they chose to fight, and being caught is part of the deal. i don't think there should be special nice jails for them when civilians go through hell in prison.