Children’s Bill of Rights Statement
by Rosalie A. van Putten
On July 4, 2000, a press conference was held in the Windows Restaurant of the SkyDome with Lynn Behrens, president of Loma Linda University. Accompanying her and also making comments were Virginia Smith, director of the Department of Children’s Ministries for the General Conference, and Jean Parchment, director of Children’s Ministries in Canada.
Behrens read a “Statement on Well-Being and Value of Children.” This statement itemizes the response of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to the issues and needs of children, and lists several rights of children, including the right to adequate clothing, health/medical care, education, respect, a stable home environment, freedom from abuse, and freedom from exploitation and discrimination.
Several issues were raised regarding the well-being of children. One question raised was regarding insuring that proper healthcare be provided for children. Behrens stated that in the United States, we look more at the availability of health insurance. There have been many agencies that make funds accessible through public sources, and this makes healthcare available for children. However, when looking at this from a global perspective, the issue becomes much larger and the handling of healthcare becomes much more difficult, especially in areas where adequate healthcare is not available.
When asked how the Statement affects us on a grass-roots level, the response was that we need to first educate the parents. We need to teach them how to parent their children in a manner that will decrease the use of corporal punishment and promote other less physical forms of discipline. This “re-education” will be done through teachers and pastors. It was also stated that printed matter will be going out globally so that the rights of children will be incorporated worldwide. It is the desire of the Church to insure that all children know that they are important and that they are a necessary and valued part of the Church. Virginia Smith stated that “children need positive interaction with good adult role models.”
When asked how children would become aware of the Statement, including their rights as mentioned therein, it was stated that focus will be made through programs that reach children. In particular, Pathfinders, Adventurers and other youth ministries, together with the Family Life Department, will be used for the purpose of effectively re-educating the children.
The cultural and legal differences between the industrialized and third world countries was cited. Ideas concerning the educating of children and their rights vary greatly across the globe. It was stated that we have to educate our women, and make sure that men are included in this process as well. As Smith stated, “all adults are responsible for the well-being of children. We need to show that there is a Biblical basis for the well being of children.”
Behrens stated that the “comprehensive nature of this Statement will require all elements of the Church to support and nurture children.” In order for this to be effective, it is going to take a multi-pronged approach to solve the myriad of problems that children face. She stated that she has become increasing convinced that it is the responsibility of adults to become the “voice of the voiceless.” They need to speak up for the children and protect them.
Questions were raised regarding corporal punishment in our educational institutions, and it was indicated that information would be sent out to them as to the Church’s stand on this issue. Also raised was the issue of incest within the Church. While we try to provide a safe environment for our children in church and in school, the only method seen for insuring this safety within the home is, again, re-education.
A representative of ADRA was present at the press conference. ADRA works closely with children and women, and can be used as a conduit for disseminating the concerns raised in the Statement, especially in Third-World countries.
Concerns were raised regarding the role of the Adventist church in providing services for children and meeting their needs. It was agreed that there is much more that we can do, but we can use this Statement as a catalyst. Teams are being formed and studies are being done to determine how the ideas sited in the Statement will be effectively implemented. We have made great strides, but we have a long way to go. We were asked to encourage others to join in the advocacy of this Statement, which could insure that all children are granted the rights outlined therein.