Teach children to love not hate

Children with guns

Introduction

We love and cherish our children; we live in a civilised part of the world where the mores of christianity and a lawful way of life are generally observed. Most people have faith in our leaders and institutions to do right by and protect their people from harm. Sadly, we know from what we hear, see and read each day, that there are other parts of our world in which bringing up a child is extremely dangerous; where the 'norm' is an existence of constant fear, a fight for suvival; where 'to love one another' is the furthest thought from minds in constant turmoil and paranoia. Syria, the Ukraine, Indonesia, many parts of Central Africa, India and Pakistan immediately spring to mind, with images of 'child soldiers' bearing arms, a deadly undercurrent to the daily mayhem. But would it shock you to know that young children in one of the most civilised and 'free' parts of the world, play with customised rifles while cuddling their dolls and teddy bears?

Children at War

In our monthly intention for August 2015 - Praying for children who are trafficked - we asked how could any person defend himself or herself against recruiting or abducting a child as young as nine to use a firearm; or to permit images of boy soldiers on television, smiling and firing off full magazines; and claim that they were not exploiting them for the promotion of a specific cause? We invited you to view thousands of pictures of child soldiers on the internet, and try to remain impassive. Arguably the world's most effective assault rifle, the AK-47, can be stripped and reassembled by a child of 10. Besides being able to use lethal weapons, children are easier to intimidate and they do as they are told. They are also less likely than adults to run away and they do not demand salaries.

"Being new, I couldn't perform the very difficult exercises properly and so I was beaten every morning. Two of my friends in the camp died because of the beatings. The soldiers buried them in the latrines. I am still thinking of them"

Over the last ten years, two million children have been killed in conflict, over one million have been orphaned, six million have been seriously injured or permanently disabled and over ten million have been left with serious psychological trauma. What must it be like to be battle-hardened at ten-years of age, without parents, brothers, sisters; or to be living in the hell of shell-fire, explosions and constant gun-battles?

“My squad is my family, my gun is my provider, and protector, and my rule is to kill or be killed.”

How do you cope with being seriously maimed, being homeless, starving, subjected to abuse? As you go 'on-the-run', what hopes do you harbour of a loving, safe, home environment? Children are, due to their physical constitution and growth, most vulnerable to being deprived of food, medical assistance and education, which has a severe and lasting impact on their development. (cf SOS Childrens Villages)

Children with Guns

But pictures of children bearing arms are not confined to some of the most war-torn parts of the world. Compare the following two images:

The first photograph is of a 7 year-old boy, from the U.S.A., bearing a customised child's rifle, which can shoot small, but real bullets. The boy's biggest fear is 'bears'. The second photograph is of a boy soldier in Africa, carrying what appears to be an adult weapon, presumably with full, deadly capabilities. Which image do you find most unsettling?

In the U.S.A. a child or teen dies from a gun every 3 hours and 28 minutes. Guns killed more children under 5 in 2014 than law enforcement officers in the line of duty. There are as many guns as people in the U.S.A.

Two distinguished legal scholars, Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins, in their book, Crime Is Not The Problem: Lethal Violence In America Is, bluntly stated their conclusion: "What is striking about the quantity of lethal violence in the United States is that it is a third-world phenomenon occurring in a first-world nation."

Fear is (fuelling) the key

Is fear at the heart of why parents bear weapons and pass the customs to their children? Of course, there are also power struggles; reclaiming that which is rightfully yours; religious differences (which includes power and reclamation)...but fear is never far from these reasons. Most frightening perhaps is the irrational factor of fear. Growing up in fear of the bogeyman, and perhaps never growing out of that? How do you counter the - some would argue - rational fears of parents, living in 'first-world' nations, that the world is full of bad people; and that they must teach their children to use and own firearms, to protect themselves?

What is the solution?

Look at Ireland. Our little country has suffered invasions, foreign rule, famine, partition, internecine strife, economic depression. Yet, we survive. We cannot claim to be perfect; we still have our faults. Ours is a continuous work in progress, as it should be. We have received assistance from time to time, which by all accounts we have paid back with interest. But without a grounding in our basic beliefs and principles, and more importantly, without a constant renewal and application of them to every facet of our lives, we would not survive.

Ireland is still, mostly a Christian country, with Christian beliefs and traditions of peace, friendship and love. The part played by the 'gun' in our turbulent history, is acknowledged in our strict firearms laws and regulations, which forbids the proliferation of such weapons of destruction; there are no exceptions for individual counties. Being ruled for centuries by Kings, despots and foreign invaders has thought us the importance and necessity of living as a democratic people, with equal rights for all. Deep down, we trust in our constitutionally appointed institutions and forces to protect us.

Christian values

Urging people to pray for children is the very heart of this blog. In our monthly intentions over the years, we have highlighted specific issues and areas of concern relating to the protection of all children. We remind you of just some of those in the context of how children with guns is anathema to our beliefs and values:

A New Beginning

In our December intentions of 2014 and 2015 - Thy Will be Done - we highlighted the opportunity to begin anew with one intention; the necessity to preserve the youngest and most vulnerable of lives.

Uphold Dignity

In our January 2015 intention - Touching the Core of the Human Spirit - we underlined the awareness of the sublime dignity of human persons, including ready access to food, clothing, housing; and their rights to freely choose their state of life and set up a family... If your activities are an affront to the dignity of others, then they are wrong; and not just to the people around you, but to you, yourself.

The Holy Family

In our April 2015 intention - The Holy Family - we stated our belief that the Holy Family had been for us the ultimate symbol for a worshipping, caring, guiding, loving, inspiring and safe place in which to grow. Through Mary, our 'Mother of Mercy' we had a beacon of devotion to a son's cause onto his death and resurrection.

Jesus, love and little children

Suffer little children who come onto me. This was one of His most profound statements. Jesus preached and practised love for one another, especially children. One can imagine how the sight of defenceless infants, being held back by parents who did not understand, must have moved Him to utter these heartfelt words. Do not hold back your children from embracing the teachings of love, peace and understanding. Do not teach them how to shoot and kill in their defence. Bring your children up in a loving family unit. Where there is a spark of humanity and decency, even in the most degraded of places, fan it, protect it.

Conclusion

“If we don't harness their potential for good, their societies will continue to reap their capacity for evil.”
Wars must be over and the truces must leave no hatreds unresolved. Communities must be re-built - they have been before - on the foundations of peace, love and understanding. Everyone must be equal and the good that is in our children must be nurtured, and harnessed and steered in the right direction. Teach children how to love and not to fight.

References:

https://www.google.es/search?q=child+fighters+syria&rlz=1C1GGGE_enIE486IE564&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=667&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0CCAQsARqFQoTCOqWncLB9sYCFQVa2wodehsJUA

 http://www.unicef.org/sowc96/2csoldrs.htm

 Former child soldier interviewed in 2002: Voices of Children

Democratic Republic of the Congo

 Ishmael BeahA Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier 

 https://www.google.ie/search?q=my+little+rifle+kesteleyn&rlz=1C1GGGE_enIE486IE564&espv=2&biw=1242&bih=606&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi2hIe5vMrKAhVDqQ4KHScQDKwQsAQIGg

 Lemondeentier.net - 400 x 338, Child Soldiers in Africa. - Le Monde...

 www.childrensdefense.org/library/data/2015-protectchildrenotgunsfactsheet.pdf.

 Pg 191, The Common Good, Vatican Council II, Costello Publishing Company, 2007

 Roméo DallaireThey Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: The Global Quest to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers