A Paper presented by Austen Ajuluchukwu Eneh at the Annual Lecture organized by the Pauline’s Prolife Group at the National Missionary Seminar of St Paul Gwagwalada, Abuja on May 27, 2017.
We all share a common humanity. Fundamental to this common humanity is the right to life. This right is enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and supported by some other Conventions like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child etc. They all support a commom position that every human being has the inherent right to life and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. The United Nations’ Charter recognizes the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation for freedom, justice and peace. This Charter reaffirms faith in the fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of the human person.
The uniqueness of the plight of children, orphans and vulnerable children received special attention in the UN resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989 which came into force on 2 September 1990.
UN Convention on child rights (Excerpts) :
In all, this Convention contains 54 Articles. We will take excerpts from this document namely
Article 1 – For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child majority is attained earlier.
Meaning: Everyone under 18 years of age has all the rights in this Convention.
Article 2 – States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians or family members.
Meaning: The Convention applies to everyone whatever their race, religion, abilities, whatever they think or say, whatever type of family they come from.
Article 3 – In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interest of the child shall be primary consideration.
States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.
States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.
Meaning: All organisations concerned with children should work towards what is best for each child.
Article 4 – States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources, and, where needed, within the framework of international cooperation.
Meaning: Governments should make these rights available to children.
Article 5 – States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.
Meaning: Governments should respect the rights and responsibilities of families to direct and guide their children so that, as they grow, they learn to use their rights properly.
Article 6 – States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
Meaning – All children have the right to life. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily.
Article 41 – Nothing in the present Convention shall affect any provisions which are more conducive to the realization of the rights of the child and which may be contained in:
The law of a State Party ; or
International law in force for that State.
Meaning: If the laws of a particular country protect children better than the articles of the Convention, then those laws should stay.
Article 42 – States Parties undertake to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.
Meaning: The Government should make the Convention known to parents and children.
Children’s rights are a special case because many of the rights laid down in the Convention on the Rights of the Child have to be provided by the adults or the State. However the Convention also refers to the responsibilities of children, in particular to respect the rights of others especially their parents.
Embedded in every right is an accompanying responsibility. Here is an illustration of Rights and Responsibilities:
If every child, regardless of their gender, ethnic origin, status, language, age, nationality or religion has these rights, then they also have a responsibility to respect each other, in a human way.
If children have a right to be protected from conflict, cruelty, exploitation and neglect, then they also have a responsibility not to bully or harm one another.
If children have a right to a clean environment, then they also have a responsibility to do what they can to look after their environment.
The Response by the Catholic Church:
3.1 The Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC)
The Justice, Development and Peace Commission was created as a Pontifical Commission on January 6, 1967 with the name “JUSTICIA ET PAX”. In Nigeria, the local Church embraced it as a ‘structural response to the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965) appealing for the Church’s involvement in the building of a just and peaceful world’.
The Commission is intended to coordinate activities geared towards a positive change in the human condition, such as poverty, religious bigotry, election malpractices, diseases, injustice, greater equity for the poor and marginalized people and improved social cohesion. JDPC is an agent of the Roman Catholic Church engaged in socio-political outreach, such as relief and development, education and vocational training, human rights promotion, policy advocacy and Church-State relations. The JDPC Secretariat was formally launched in 1995.
The purpose of the Caritas is to awaken in the people of God full awareness of their mission; to further the progress of poorer Nations and international Social Justice, as well as their own development for more justice and peace in the society.
The Commission employs the under listed strategies to enhance the reach of their work in the lives of the people
Public awareness campaign and enlightenment programme
Strengthening grassroots’ organization by building their capacity and stimulating networks and coalitions.
Legal aid and alternative dispute.
Advocacy (responding promptly through advocacy and activism to the need of the poor, marginalized and vulnerable in our immediate remote environment.
Liaisons with other groups in pursuit of good governance.
3.2 The Role of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission:
Promoting the dignity of the human persons especially the Orphans and Vulnerable Children.
Framework for OVC Care and Support
A Framework for the Protection, Care and Support of Orphans and Vulnerable Children Living in a World like Nigeria has been offered. The Framework builds on the programming principles provided by in the Children on the Brink series (UNICEF, 2002 and 2004).
The five core strategies set forth in the Framework are as follows:
Strengthening the capacity of families to protect and care for OVC by prolonging the lives of parents and providing economic, psychosocial and other support;
Mobilizing and supporting community-based responses to provide both immediate and long-term assistance to vulnerable households;
Ensuring access for OVC to essential services, including education, health care, birth registration and others;
Ensuring that governments protect the most vulnerable children through improved policy and legislation and by channelling resources to communities; and
Raising awareness at all levels through advocacy and social mobilization to create a supportive environment for children affected by HIV.
Some programming guidelines in implementing these core strategies include:
Focusing on the most vulnerable children and communities, not only children orphaned by AIDS;
Defining community specific problems and pursuing locally determined interventions;
Involving children and youth as active participants in the response;
Attending to the roles of children, men and women, addressing gender discrimination; and
Linking HIV prevention activities and care and support for people living with HIV (PLHIV) with support for vulnerable children.
The Legal Framework for the care and support of the OVCs
Background Legal protection in OVC programs and appropriate strategies are critical:
For ensuring that children are registered,
In the event of absent or deceased caregivers, that their assets are protected and they have appropriate guardians.
For ensuring children access to basic legal rights, such as birth certificates and inheritance rights,
For enabling them to access other essential services and opportunities, including health, education, legal services, and legal employment when they grow older. Evidence suggests that birth registration is critical to ensuring that children can access these essential services and opportunities.
Hithermore, the mechanisms used for establishing the identity of an unregistered child (sworn affidavits, for example) are more difficult to obtain when a child’s relatives are deceased.
Although significant barriers prevent birth registration and succession planning, several strategies have been proven to minimize these barriers and facilitate access to basic legal support.
Improving birth registration
Raising awareness about the importance of birth registration
Partners can support efforts to organize mass registration to promote the benefits of birth registration. These interventions are low cost and sustainable, replicable, appropriate to all contexts regardless of the type of epidemic, and require limited technical capacity.
Partners can develop and disseminate messages through radio, television, film, and existing groups or structures (e.g., health teams, youth organizations, religious institutions, and police), and work with community leaders and celebrity ambassadors to advocate for registration. Messages should incorporate local languages.
Partners can also offer special incentives for those who register births within a certain time period, such as bed nets, and support links with other services, such as prenatal care, immunizations, and educational services. Supporting efforts to break down geographical barriers.
Introducing succession planning
Raising awareness about rights and inequalities in inheritance practices and the importance of succession
Linkage of succession planning with other basic services and offering of temporary incentives for completing succession plans.
When possible, they can organize targeted training and awareness-raising campaigns for community leaders, police, magistrates and lawyers, who have authority to enforce succession plans or distribute property in ways that benefit women and children.
Supporting caregivers to appoint standby guardians
Partners should also seek to link succession planning with other services, promote succession planning through public campaigns, and disseminate information through existing groups.
3.3 What then is the role of the JPDC in the Care and support of OVC
Any existing institutional policy both legal frame work and other mechanisms that provide a supportive environment for the care of these children? Yes No
Existing institutional policy
Any legal frame work
Any other mechanisms
If yes to any of the above, what are the concrete instruments
If no, what next steps to take?
What are the causes of vulnerability which results into the failure to include OVC issues among the priorities on the developmental agenda of Nigeria? (There is need to diagnose this to enable planning on how to tackle it).
How to work to develop stronger commitment and a support structure for these children amidst current economic challenges? What next steps considering the framework as discussed above?
In terms of justice, what is justice in the situation of these children? (Let us discuss this now. What do we term justice? Fair play? Equity? What?
How can we, as pro-lifers reach out to people like this? Let us come up with our strategies for the next steps.
How can these children be encouraged to attain their potential personality in life in this age of helicopter parenting? Long term goal. But let start with simple locally visible steps, mostly acceptance and willingness to change behaviour towards the OVCs.
The Issues :
From time, humanity has struggled with the distribution of resources. And has often based her reward system on might (economic, military, political etc.), achievements, qualification, net worth, influence etc. This lopsided method of resource distribution has, sadly, been extended to certain inherent human endowments like right to life, freedom of speech etc. This has also kept the poor, the uneducated and uncivilized, the widows, the unemployed, women and children on the fringes of society, perennially entrenching their marginalization.
Our focus here will be on those practices that pose a threat to right to life, those practices that have continually perpetuated these acts of marginalization (exclusion) and discrimination. We will also look at what our society (you and I), our government, our Church have done, can do and are still doing about it. We will then collectively come up with suggestions on how to improve the plight of these persons and ultimately improve our society.
Let’s begin with the arguments around life, when does it begin and when does it end? What powers can the human person exercise over life? etc.
One view holds that life is sacred, a gift from God for humanity to protect and preserve, that it begins from Conception (right from the womb) to natural death, that one life is as precious as another whatever the ages or circumstances and that no one has the right to terminate any life whatever the circumstances.
Cathy Cleaver ,a Senior Fellow for Legal Studies at Family Research Council, US who had served previously as Chief Counsel for the US House of Representatives Constitution Subcommittee and also the Prolife spokesperson for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
And Rob Schwarzwalder also a Senior Vice President of Family Research Council, previously served as a Presidential Appointee at the US Dept. of Health and Human Services where as Senior Speech Writer, he crafted language on all facets of Federal Health Care policy. Rob also served previously as Chief of Staff to two members of Congress in the US.
In their opening comments on this matter, they observed that abortion debate is like no other because the practice is widespread – millions of American women have aborted a child, and the pain, loss and emotional need to justify what was done both on the part of the mother and on the part of her loved ones is deep and strong. This means that in any debate, you may face an invisible thumb on the scale so that even the best logic will fail to persuade.
And I dare add, in Nigeria, as well. Man and wife take to pills, IUDs and other artificial methods of Family Planning. Some babies are labeled as unwanted and are aborted, how many of our Catholic women are using Natural methods of Family Planning and teaching their daughters to do same. How many can tell the difference? What level of support are they receiving from their husbands, our fathers on Family Planning matters? What kind of society, what kind of Church are we building? Where is the faith that we profess as Catholics?
Science supports the position of the Church when it says:
At the moment of fusion of human sperm and egg, a new entity comes into existence which is distinctly human, alive and an individual organism – a living and fully human, being. This is the PRO-LIFE view. This is the position of our Church.
Another view would argue that yes, life is sacred, that but it has its beginning at birth (not in the womb), and that some lives are obviously more important than another (e.g. a pregnant woman whose baby is threatening should have an abortion to save the mother’s life over the baby’s etc). Euthanasia can be deployed for properly evaluated cases and that same sex unions are simply expressions of rights. This view is PRO-CHOICE.
Where do you belong?
As a further illustration of euthanasia, please listen to this real life story:
The world was treated to a true story, thirteen years ago of a young Belgian boy who had been ill from birth with a terrible bowel disease and had been in and out of hospital all his life! As his body had grown so had the pain. By the end, it was excruciating.
It was when he was thirteen that Danny Bond started talking about wanting to die. One night, in the early hours, the peace of the sleeping house was shattered by his screaming that he had had enough. ‘It was chilling,’ his father Mike recalled on television a decade ago. ‘I can hear it now if I close my eyes. It left an indelible print on me.’
Danny began to talk about killing himself. His parents tried to distract him from the idea. ‘I tried everything,’ his mother Beverley recalled. ‘I tried to cheer him up. I tried blackmail and bribing him. I tried to give him a focus and some goals.’ But none of it worked. Three times he tried to end his own life. Three times his mom resuscitated him and called for an Ambulance. It made Danny angry. After the third attempt he told his mother she had let him down. ‘You have really got to learn to walk out of the door.’ He told her.
Soon after his 21st birthday, Danny went downhill rapidly. He was taken into hospital. ‘I want to die’ he told his parents, ‘and you have to help me.’ But Mike was a policeman and knew assisting suicide was a crime. Danny decided he would starve himself to death – the only way he could die legally (in Belgian law).
His doctors were unhappy. So Danny charged his parents to sit by his bed to ensure that no one gave him treatment he did not want. All he wanted was the privilege to be given an injection that would kill him instantly in seconds. All he could get legally was a slow death in days by starving himself. And that was how Danny ended it.
The Belgian Parliament responded thereafter , to cases like Danny’s by making it legal for such persons to be killed – if they are ‘close to death’, experiencing ‘unbearable suffering’ and can show they truly ‘discern’ the consequences of what they are asking.
We, Pro-Lifers disagree totally – No one has the right to terminate life WHATEVER THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
Evil is evil however logical. Go to the account of the fall of man in Gen 3:6
‘The woman saw that the fruit was good to eat, and pleasant to the eyes and ideal for gaining knowledge’. (CCB).
Sound logic. What are we talking about? – Pro-choice would ask.
I ask again – Where do you belong? Logic doesn’t cut it. Only God. Are we prepared to obey Him, however difficult the situation might be?
Having taken sides, let’s now look at the perennial questions about the Orphans and Vulnerable Children.
In Nigeria today, as in many African countries, there is a major humanitarian and development challenge which has hampered the realization of the tents of the right to life, especially among children. This has to do with the increasing number of orphans and vulnerable children in the country. And also vulnerable families. A visit to some homes or areas around the country shows that there are children who do not have access to even one of the possibilities mentioned above. There are also families whose breadwinner is either dead or disengaged from employment, thus denying the entire family access to resources for even the most basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. There’no one seated here who does not know at least one of such family.
Often, the advocacy for right to life is limited to the discuss about the unborn and the adults, to the exclusion of OVCs and vulnerable families, as well. There is no constitutional law made for the advocacy of these orphans, vulnerable children and vulnerable families. Some of them are victims of violence and by such means become orphans, some as a result of sicknesses like HIV/AIDS, mal-nutrition and other related diseases are left to suffer, some are victims of early spousal death or abrupt disengagement from employment. There is no doubt that the needs of some if not all of these categories range from need for equal rights, fair treatment, to be well educated, good health, psychological support, shelter and dignity unconditionally.
There have been cases of children abandoned and some who are vulnerable exposed to the reach of some miscreants in the society. These miscreants deploy them as means of money making like beggars on the streets, baby factories, suicide bombers by terrorist groups, child trafficking, rituals, and other forms of societal exploitation, violent acts and abuse against children.
The questions for us now are as follows:
Are these children doomed to die?
Do we have any existing institutional policy both legal frame work and other mechanisms that provide a supportive environment for the care of these children?
What are the causes of vulnerability which results into the failure to include OVC issues among the priorities on the developmental agenda of Nigeria?
How do we work to develop stronger commitment and a support structure for these children amidst current economic challenges?
In terms of justice, what is justice in the situation of these children?
How can we, as pro lifers reach out to people like this?
What role does the religious groups or body has to play in the support of these children?
What does the scripture say about this scenario?
What sin did they commit? How can forgiveness be accessed?
Why has nature chosen to deal with them this badly?
How can these children be encouraged to attain their potential personality in life in this age of helicopter parenting?
The above questions are the agitations in the mind of the Organisers of this seminar. To end my contributions without addressing some, if not all of these concerns might amount to some form of injustice. Earlier in this paper, I have listed the following:
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
JDPC, its formation and its role in promoting the dignity of the human persons especially the Orphans and Vulnerable Children, Framework for OVC Care and Support , programming guidelines, Legal frameworks etc.
These would attest to the existence of institutional policy, legal frame work and other mechanisms that provide a supportive environment for the care of these children at some level. All that may be required is some adoption and domestication.
Of course, we know that these categories of people (Orphans and Vulnerable Children are not doomed to die, even if our attitudes, behaviours and conducts of our personal and group lives suggest as much. What is urgent and critical at this moment is behavioural and attitudinal change both at the level of the individual and the group. Individuals must desist from mixing Psalms for hungry and needy families and OVCs and offer them rather the bread they need. Love one another JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. Groups must practice social inclusion and shun policies and programmes that drive away this category of people – WHATSOEVER YOU DO TO THE LEAST OF MY BRETHREN, THAT YOU DO UNTO ME.
Apathy by Catholics to socio-political activities in the society has not helped, and cannot help anybody. Not the least, this category of people. It is only when we get involved that we can influence the right policies. How many of us here today have got a Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC)? We need to get involved in governance. This is where the decisions that impact everyone, especially our focal group today, are taken.
Our Church has done well with the creation of JDPC in 1967. But 50 years after, analysis shows that they have not competed favourably in their sector. As NGOs, some have grown into owning their own schools and micro-finance institutions, while others have performed abysmally. The reason is very simple – Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E) mechanism. There is need for a Central Body that will act as regulator and agenda setter, ensuring that these NGOs are run based on international Best Practices. That way, issues of partnerships, funding and scale are dealt with in a structured manner. This will guarantee growth for the entity, employment for the people and the realization of the objectives for which they were set up. The Church needs to set up this Body. Then the Body will drive the rest.
As I conclude, let me say that the utmost question before all of us gathered here today is – Where do we belong in this whole conversation? Pro-Life or Pro-Choice? Undecided? This option truly is not available. The real choice before us is to become Pro-Life. To say no to this is an automatic yes for Pro-Choice. Whatever choice you make will form your Frame of Reference in our ongoing discourse around Orphans and Vulnerable Children.
The questions are unending as should the answers we collectively strive to provide. To pretend to have answered all of them will amount to delusion. I have only stoked the fire. Let the discussions continue.
Thank you very much!
UNICEF. Children on the Brink, 3rd. ed. 2002 www.unaids.org.
UNICEF. (2004) Children on the Brink: A Joint Report of New Orphan Estimates and a Framework for Action., (4th ed.) New York: UNICEF.
Abstract: Pauline’s Pro-Life, National Missionary Seminary of St Paul Gwagwalada, Abuja.
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