Today, Monday, November 20, 2023, marks International Children's Day, also known as the International Day of Children's Rights. Typically, on this day, in my blog, I address the need to protect children's rights in the context of violence within families and/or violence against infants and toddlers by educators in early childhood settings. Additionally, I often discuss the right of children to receive good and quality education that will enhance their chances of integration and prosperity in the society of the 21st century. These issues have not ceased to be important. In Israel, incidents of family violence or violence by educational staff towards toddlers have not disappeared, and they need to be addressed continuously.
I would like to emphasize that, generally, I critically examine the Israeli government and educational system and demand much more effort to ensure the rights of children – all children living here. This time, exceptionally, my criticism is directed against international organizations that champion the cause of preserving children's rights (such as UNICEF, AERA, SRCD). As a lecturer and researcher in early childhood education, I draw inspiration from them, and today I express my dismay against their deafening silence regarding the violation of the rights of Israeli children by the terrorist organization Hamas.
Therefore, when I asked myself what should be the most pressing issue related to blatant, cruel, and incomprehensible violations of the basic rights of children and adolescents in Israel on Children's Day in November 2023, I consider that, the inevitable answer is that the issue of the kidnapped children in Gaza is the problem that needs immediate international attention. It is an issue that requires urgent international intervention, intervention that may result in the return of the kidnapped children, some of whom had been kidnapped with siblings, while others are alone or had been kidnapped with a parent or other relatives or neighbors.
On the Black Saturday, October 7, 2023, there were additional unbearable violations of children's rights and even physical harm to them. Children were murdered in front of their parents or were forced to witness the killing of their parents or other family members. Despite these atrocities, UNICEF, the UN Children's Fund, did not see fit to address the issue deeply. This is not understandable because UNICEF's mandate is to ensure the rights of every child in the world.
On International Children's Day
The purpose of International Children's Day, among other things, is to "mobilize communication for awareness and promotion of the status and rights of children worldwide, engaging the public and raising awareness of children's rights among children themselves" (Wikipedia).
Human rights and children's rights originate from the universal human moral code and are simultaneously enforced legally through agreements made by international organizations (such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and through laws adopted by countries (such as the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty in Israel and the Student Rights Law).
Elliott Turiel proposed the Moral Domain Theory, which focuses on moral values and distinguishes them from values that focus on the conventional-social domain and the personal-psychological domain. This means that physical, emotional, social (ostracism), and sexual harm to others constitutes a moral offense anywhere in the world. The right to life, freedom, and well-being is not subject to social consensus. In other words, parliaments, institutions, and communities are not allowed anywhere in the world to harm people (this perspective can also be extended to animals). This is in contrast to conventional systems (such as the direction of traffic on a road, which is entirely a matter of social agreement).
In 1989, following a decade-long discussion, the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure the rights of children in countries around the world. The majority of countries worldwide signed and ratified the convention. Israel signed the convention in 1990 and ratified it in 1991.
Key Principles of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child
The convention is based on five key principles from which the rights and duties of the children and the obligations of the state towards them are derived:
- Principle of Equality: Protects children from discrimination in countries where they live based on, among other things, religion, gender, race, health status, and mental status.
- Principle of Participation: Ensures that in different countries, children are given the right to express their opinions freely in any process that concerns them.
- Best Interests of the Child Principle: Defines priority and supreme value for the benefit of the child over the rights and interests of others.
- Principle of Life, Survival, and Development: Prohibits the taking of children's lives, reduces factors leading to their death, ensures minimum living conditions, and prohibits the mandatory use of violence against them. The principle of development refers to the assistance of countries to parents to ensure their children's development.
- Principle of Evolving Capacities: Refers to the prevention of exposing children to actions that are incompatible with their age and mental and psychological state.
Rights of the Child
Derived from the five central principles, the derived rights relate to:
- The right to family life,
- Civil rights,
- Freedoms, including the right to identity and the right to self-expression,
- Rights related to children with disabilities,
- Rights related to leisure, education, and culture,
- Children's right to special protection and the right to prevent their exploitation,
- The right to rescue, and more.
Violation of the rights of Israeli children by Hamas
The violation of the rights of infants, children, and youth in Israel on October 7th constitutes a blatant violation, crying out to the heavens for the rights of children. Against this backdrop, it is difficult to understand, if not impossible, UNICEF's disregard for these violations. Indeed, it was reported in the media (see, for example, a Ynet article by Itamar Eichner dated November 15, 2023) that UNICEF's director, Catherine Russell, canceled a meeting in Israel with the families of kidnapped children, claiming she had a car accident. However, simultaneously, she visited Gaza and extensively presented the violation of children's rights there amid the war between Israel and Hamas.
My claim in this post is that we must recognize and lament the harm to children as they are, within the context of the current escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas. It is evident that Israeli children (including many Arab children) are being harmed by Hamas terrorists alongside the harm to Gaza children in the shadow of war. However, what Catherine Russell did not address in her reports from Gaza, a very understated matter, is that the harm to children in Gaza is a direct result of the massacre initiated by Hamas in the South of Israel on October 7, 2023. As difficult and terrible as the harm to the children of Gaza may be (harm that every effort should be made to minimize), it is not a harm that Israel initiated or intended; rather, it is a terrible outcome of a war imposed on the State of Israel. In contrast, the harm to Israeli children on October 7, 2023, was intentional. The children were a target for harm and a means to inflict pain on Israel. To a certain extent, both Israeli and Gaza children are victims of well-planned violent aggression initiated by the Hamas terrorist organization. Ensuring the rights of adults and children in Gaza is important, and their living conditions are challenging. However, it cannot be ignored that in Gaza, there is a leadership that values terrorism, and the rights of children (both Gaza and Israeli) are not considered significant in their eyes.
I refer to the list of children kidnapped collectively by Gaza in Israel on the Black Saturday of October 7, 2023.
Kidnapping of Children in Nigeria and its Presentation on UNICEF's Website
I thought it would be beneficial to compare UNICEF's handling of the kidnapping of 296 girls from their schools in Chibok, Nigeria, by the ruthless organization Boko Haram in 2014 to the disregard of the same organization for the killing and kidnapping of children in Israel during the massacre on October 7, 2023. UNICEF is an organization trusted to safeguard the rights of every child worldwide.
On UNICEF's Hebrew website, the crimes of Boko Haram are presented, including the fact that 96 girls are still missing, and since then, an additional 80 children have been abducted. Furthermore, the relevant page highlights the actions of the "terror organization defying convention," Boko Haram from Nigeria. The Western world was shocked by the brutal attack, and immediately, a campaign emerged: #bringbackourgirls, with notable figures like Michelle Obama joining in.
Contrary to the strong condemnation by leaders from the Western world (such as the United States, Germany, and Britain) regarding the civilian massacre in Israel, including the brutal attack on children on Black Saturday, October 7, 2023, UNICEF and other international organizations (such as AERA, SRCD) either chose not to comment on the matter or issued weak statements that emphasized the symmetry between harming Israelis and harming Gaza children without condemning the massacre instigated by the terrorist organization Hamas that ignited the war, continuing to harm many children in Gaza and Israel.
Researchers, educators, and educational professionals from the United States and Israel criticize the international organizations for their silence regarding the massacre that occurred in Israel on October 7, 2023. So far, various organizations, including UNICEF, have failed to condemn the atrocities against children carried out by the terrorist organization Hamas.
In summary, to restore our trust as human beings, educators, and researchers in international organizations such as UNICEF, it is imperative that these organizations unequivocally condemn the actions of the Hamas terrorist organization in Israel on Black Saturday, October 7, 2023. I look forward to a page on UNICEF's website displaying the kidnapped Israeli children, those murdered, and those abused on that same Saturday, similar to the page displaying the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria. International campaigns against the actions of Hamas are also expected. Otherwise, the concern for children's rights worldwide appears selective and context-dependent rather than an absolute commitment based on universal human morality.