WASHINGTON – Christian leaders and human rights advocates from around the world recently gathered at an international global poverty event to discuss the desperate situations oppressing the world's poorest children, from human trafficking to environmental degradation.
More than 1,000 faith and grassroots activists gathered for the fifth annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace and Justice Conference, which ended on Monday with advocates lobbying members of Congress for greater U.S. support on issues affecting the world's poorest children.
Overall, conference presenters reported that the world has made some progress in meeting the guidelines for the rights of children but was failing in key areas such as human trafficking and HIV/AIDS.
"There are many examples of how the Convention on the Rights of the Child has changed conditions for the better in many countries," said Mercedes Roman, an Ecuadorian sociologist and U.N. representative for Defense for Children International (DCI), according to Church World Service. CWS is one of the more than 50 sponsors of the conference.
Roman noted the increase in the number of children attending schools as governments begin to realize that education leads to social and cultural development.
"I can say that there has been some progress toward the reign of God in some areas," she acknowledged. "The understanding of children as persons with rights is growing."
However, Roman said that in some parts of the world the conditions of children has remained the same or has even worsened.
In Africa the number of HIV children is growing as is the number of children trafficked and sexual abused. Roman also reported that drug abuse is a growing problem among children and in many places children are becoming sexually active at younger ages.
Issues of child soldiers in Africa and daily violence in countries such as Burma, Iraq, and the Philippines were also highlighted during the symposium "And How Are the Children."
Conference speaker Fr. Rocco Puopolo, executive director of Africa Faith and Justice Network, said that although some child soldiers have been kidnapped, others, however, have joined voluntarily to lift themselves out of poverty.
"Sometimes conditions are very bad for kids and they see no hope in their lives," said Puopolo. "They're told if they join they'll get money, but that doesn't happen. It's a reflection of the absolute poverty in which they're living."
Children's Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman presented the issue of child healthcare in a keynote speech Sunday where she declared that it is "sinful" that over 9 million children in America do not have health insurance. She called on the nation's leaders to take steps towards ensuring comprehensive health and mental health coverage for all children and pregnant women in America.
The conference portion of the gathering closed on Sunday night with the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), prepping activists to lobby on Capitol Hill on Monday.
"We don't have to take a vote as to whether God cares about children," said Edgar.
"Talk from your heart about peace and poverty and healthcare and children … about the children of Baghdad and Darfur and Afghanistan and New Orleans."
The Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace and Justice Conference is the only event in the United States that brings together national and international faith and grassroots activists to combat poverty. This year's gathering of more than 1,000 participant marks the largest attendance in the history of the conference which started in 2003 with only 400 people.