National Catholic Register

Vatican

Crusading Priest Calls for Children’s Court

BY Paul Burnell

October 10-16, 1999 Issue | Posted 10/10/99 at 1:00 PM

 
PAUL BURNELL

LONDON—The world's exploited and violated children need their own court of human rights, a crusading priest urged a major United Nations conference.

Columban Father Shay Cullen, an advocate for the abolition of child prostitution, made his latest proposal in August at the International Forum for Child Welfare in Helsinki that was sponsored by the United Nations to mark the 10th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Citing statistics from the International Labor Organization, Father Cullen said 50 to 60 million children between the ages of five and 11 are “laboring in inhuman and potentially life-threatening conditions.”

In all, he said, “250 million children between the ages of five and 14 are laboring in developing countries. But many more are maltreated and abused victims of serfdom, child pornography and sweatshops that utilize child labor.”

An empowered youth can fight back, argued Father Cullen. He cited the Global March of Young People, an effort to demonstrate for freedom from child labor and sexual exploitation. Perhaps not well known in many places, the march took place in a number of cities around the world over the last year, ending with a demonstration at U.N. headquarters in New York.

But an international court would make for better protection for children whose own nations may be looking the other way.

Vikram Parekh, a research officer with Human Rights Watch, said a children's court “would be rather difficult to implement” because “many governments would be reluctant to [cede authority to] another jurisdiction.”

He said children's advocacy and human rights groups should first direct their efforts at getting governments to make the United Nation's convention on child rights made part of their own laws.

Father Cullen's call for an international justice forum for children received modified endorsement from Daphne McLeod, chairman of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a British Catholic organization that promotes loyalty to the Pope and the Magisterium.

“The U.N. has to take action against those who threaten vulnerable children, especially those who are exploited and abused in the Third World,” McLeod told the Register. However, if the U.N. were serious about children's rights, she said, it would stop funding forced abortion in China and the promotion of pro-abortion policies in the Third World.

“When talk of children's rights comes to the West, it is usually at the expense of parents’ rights,” McLeon cautioned. For example, “the European Court of Human Rights is being used to stop parents from smacking their children. The next thing you know you will have children going to court to get out of doing the washing-up.”

In addition to the proposed court, Father Cullen told the conference that much remains to be done to break down the apathy and complacency that pervades government and society over issues such as child exploitation and child sexual abuse. “We are instead faced with an ever greater challenge so long as millions of children are enslaved, abused, exploited,” he said.

Paul Burnell writes from Manchester, England.