Children: A Permanent Challenge for the Churches

By Soares, Zeni de Lima | International Review of Mission, July 1996 | Go to article overview

Children: A Permanent Challenge for the Churches


Soares, Zeni de Lima, International Review of Mission


Introduction

Some years ago, a group of persons connected to the Methodist, Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Independent Presbyterian Churches, motivated by the evangelical challenge of "whoever receives the least of these receives me," decided to get to know the children of the streets of Brazil, the streets where they survive.

Having eyes to see and ears to hear was quickly seen to be fundamental: mouths were stopped and hearts constrained before the little-known and threatening streets.

Speaking little and listening much, creating effective and affective bonds, the group went, very slowly, learning to trust the children and winning their confidence. To come without preconceived ideas, without titles, without the flavour of those who know everything important. And, finally, to have the willingness to take risks, to confront repressive public institutions like the police, the business people, the public authority, which is not so "public," the self-involved and moralistic churches - a clarity in the defense of life and rights spoke more loudly than any discourse.

The "street" proved to be a great school of life, a call to conversion. Pain and hope were mixed together, and together with the children the group learned the facts of life in their most contradictory facets. The way, always long and painful, revealed itself at the same time to be pregnant with promise. The misery of millions of families and the revelation of the violence, like the literal extermination of children and adolescents, the enslavement and prostitution of thousands of girls were revolting in the degree of barbarism revealed, the impunity and the indifference.

To take this way, this way of pain; to unveil this reality and discover the power to interfere, not in a solitary way but in solidarity, accompanied by the girls and boys, stirs up dreams, motivates new practices, broadens horizons and challenges us, as churches, to ever-increasing commitments to the children, the preferred and protected ones of God.

This text seeks to show a bit of this reality of the girls and boys of the Street, and to share what some churches that have been converted to the cause of the little ones are doing with them.

THE SITUATION OF CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS IN BRAZIL

Children, the sons and daughters of the people, children of the poor margins of the cities, sons and daughters of peasants; farmers without land are the poor of the poor, doubly poor, for being sons and daughters of the poor and for being children.(1)

We live in a country marked by immense social inequalities and by grave structural problems. With many forced to leave the countryside about 70% of the population is concentrated in the cities. The illiterate number some 21% of the population. The lack of basic sewage systems results in the death of 60 of every 1,000 children before they reach the age of one year; in the poorer regions this number rises to 200 to 300 deaths per 1,000 births.

In the impoverished classes, the children enter early into the labour force. Statistics from UNICEF/IBGE indicate that nearly three million children between the ages of ten and fourteen are working during the period of their lives when they should be in school where they would be not only educated but also learning the basic principles of citizenship. It has been affirmed that this number doubled between 1983 and 1986 and that only 24.6% of the children who are working in the urban areas have a formally established job. Another significant item is the increase in the numbers of families headed by women, today totalling 11.4%. Of the 95% of the children who have the opportunity to enroll in a school, half of them do not make it to the second grade; about 18 million of the children between seven and seventeen years of age are illiterate and nearly half of the rural population of Brazil of school age cannot attend school.(2)

The children of the streets

They don't wake up under the covers.

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