This weekend Australia celebrates the British monarch and her reign as sovereign is always disappointing to me who long for Australia to be a republic. Her first public speech was made when she was 14, over the radio and with her sister to give comfort to other young people and children who were being removed from their homes becoming refugees and offering good luck during their time of separation from their families.
The crackle of the crystals warming up before the voices of young women wishing well and reminding peers the future belongs to them, when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place. She invited all the children to bear their share too of the danger and sadness of war. So many children bear more than their share – their toll is greatest, their future taken away through the aftermath of conflict. The wars go on long after soldiers have left. Their fathers go home with post-traumatic stress and their mental health condition may well lead to more violence to self and their loved ones. The land is no longer fertile, harvesting only toxins in the soil left from the herbicides and residue of weapons and mines in the ground maybe lasting for aeons. DNA maybe damaged passing on genetic disorders to generation after generation. Locked in detention, robbed of their childhood, children bare more than their share of war.
The voice of the child so clear and powerful, the young princess Elizabeth was heard by her peers as well as adults. The power and place of public media the platform to be heard. More recently in our time that very same public media, the BBC found a way for another young woman’s voice to be heard, this time it was firstly anonymous and via a blog. A BBC journalist looked for a young person who could write safely about their life with the Taliban. A school and its teacher were approached and the child who first wrote under the pseudonym Gul Makai (means Cornflower, after a character from Pashtun folklore). Her first blog entry was published on 3 January 2009, it was from hand-write notes passed on to a reporter scanned and e-mailed – no doubt a series of crackles along the way to get them to publication. We all know her now as the Nobel Laureate Malala. The role of the BBC to bring a children’s voice to the masses is a triumph. The little voice is powerful in its vulnerability and unmediated honesty and desire for peace.
When the word isn’t possible, a visual image may well be even more powerful. Over three successive years, children’s art has come to the fore from detention centres where those seeking asylum have been placed by Australian authorities. More than a dozen of these pictures found their way into the Australian Human Rights Commission report released in 2015. They are evocative and compelling, and while in a publicly commissioned document, The Forgotten Children’s report’s drawings didn’t have wide spread coverage in public and commercial media – they were there but a wide audience wasn’t reached. The images too confronting and more powerful than words perhaps the reason for their modest presence in the public domain. By the middle of 2013, children seeking asylum in Australian detention centres nudged the 2,000 mark. This number has steadily declined since with the support of changing public policy, practice and tireless advocacy. The report commissioned and undertaken by the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs spearheaded the demand for the children to have their rights to seek asylum from persecution and was has been the Australian way in previous generations. Sadly children once from families given that privilege had not extended it to the next generation.
What would happen if we touched into our inner child, too feel and connect, as child to child, just as Elizabeth and her sister Margaret Rose did? Would that open our hearts a little wider, let a little more compassion seep out, embed a memory to build a future of peace and justice? Elizabeth celebrated her 90th birthday this year, she was able to hark back to her childhood in her Christmas message last year and brought the images of Syrian refugees and the reminder of her England as child together, reminding viewers of her Christian refugee story of Jesus and his family fleeing persecution and a certain death of the boy child if they did not escape the oppressors occupying their homeland.
Take a breath, in this dance of past and present. Remember yourself as a child, what would you want for yourself and for other children? A place to be safe, a place to play and a place to grow up in peace, free from persecution and war – would you refuse your inner child that right? Or the next generation’s their rights?