Children and global violence

In the week of 17-24 of July, 2014, the world witnessed the unmotivated downing of a civilian aircraft over Ukraine, the intensification of violence in the Gaza strip, and the escalation of the insurgent war in Iraq. In each of these sites, children featured as innocent victims of violence. This week begins with my eldest son's birthday and ends with my own. It was a particularly poignant week to contemplate the meaning of human existence as we witnessed violence against children daily on the television news. Images of violence on television are ephemeral, passing us by as we encounter them daily, but this time they lodge in some dark corner of my mind until I begin to write this chapter. I search the web for what I can find about that week, for how children were presented, wondering how about the children themselves might have experienced these events.

On 17th of July a scheduled international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed, presumed to have been shot down, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The reporting of the ill-fated MH17 flight in Australia featured the story of three children, Mo (12), Evie (10) and Otis Maslin (8) returning with their grandfather from a visit with family in Amsterdam. The photo on the web shows three typical children of that age, being alive, being silly, being together, just being. The mother and father were reported as too devastated to comment but the mother's sister said: 'They confirmed that my dad and my niece and two nephews were on the plane. It was unfathomable, there was nothing'. Searching through the many websites I came across an amateur video produced in Ukraine that would never have been shown in Australia and was shortly taken down. Apart from the mangled bodies and body parts twisted among the charred remains of metal and objects, an invisible hand displayed in close up view the identity page of several children's passports. A photo of a young girl, and another of a young boy and passport details, all perfectly intact but the children, along with the others on board, were gone.

All week we also witnessed renewed fighting in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 1.5 million people concentrated in an area of only 365 square kilometres. More than half of these people are children below the age of 18, 69 per cent of whom are refugees. Violence has had an appalling impact on Gaza's children. One child was killed every hour in the two days before 23 July when the UN Human Rights Council resolved to probe into the alleged war crimes. Six images of children powerfully depict the destruction of the fabric of their daily lives. One photo is labelled: In a refugee camp in the city ofRafah, a Palestinian girl stands in the ruins of her home, destroyed in an airstrike. A girl of about 8 years of age stands on the rubble remains of her home against a backdrop of an intact wall with wallpaper, a mirror, a hand basin and a towel hanging on a hook beside it as if waiting for the next hand wash in the daily life of its inhabitants. The girl holds onto a fallen timber in one hand and, with arm outstretched, a bird cage in the other. The bird cage is empty and I wonder if the bird has disappeared too.

In Iraq, more civilians are killed as violence escalates with the uprising of ISIL insurgents. On 19 July ISIS claims responsibility for a suicide bombing, which killed 33 civilians and left more than 50 wounded. Mostly we watch an endless stream of displaced families becoming a new generation of refugees as they leave their homes in Mosul. On 16th July, the total number of 'International Displaced Persons' families that had been identified since the beginning of June stood at 68,049 families (408,294 individuals). During the week another 350 families fled with only what they could carry to arrive in places of relative safety in Turkey. As the aunt of the children killed in the MH17 air crash said, 'To lose three beautiful children in a war that isn't theirs, it's different. Anything that leads to innocent children being shot out of the sky is not where we should be heading.'

While it is not possible to understand the meaning of these events for children as they are filtered through the Western media machine, witnessing them raises urgent questions about how to respond. What difference can we make in an increasingly globalised world so as not to be simply rendered powerless by vicarious violence? How can we stay alive to the global suffering of children and take action locally? What might the addition of social sustainability as a pedagogical focus contribute to the question of how children learn to live well together in an increasingly globalised and precarious world?

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