Early childhood development for orphans and vulnerable children: Key considerations

26th April 2018OffByRiseNews

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We have recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration was certainly a conquest for humanity: it is based on the dignity of the person, and promotes and defends respect for peoples and for every one of their members. The Declaration has surely not eliminated the many attacks and violations of human rights that have been perpetrated during its 50 years in force. However, there is no doubt that recognition of its principles is always a notable stimulus for the spirit and practice of justice, both within nations and in relations between States, when its true “universality” is preserved and when it is not subject to fragmentation that can take away its original spirit. We now offer a reflection on the Rights of the Family in the context of the Universal Declaration, the fruit of a seminar in which a large group of experts in different disciplines took part. For practical reasons and to aid their dissemination and knowledge, we are also offering the texts of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself and the Charter of the Rights of the Family of the Holy See in this publication. The Charter is in itself a deep reflection and development in the light of reason of what is already indicated in the Declaration.

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These documents are not always readily available. The reflection we are presenting on the occasion of this fiftieth anniversary is an instrument for dialogue and a scientific exchange of ideas on themes that affect the fundamental values of the person and of society. Human Rights and the Rights of the Family”. We join with great hope in the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. Declaration’s significance and force, and go forth in the perspective both of its true universality and its complete application.

We recognize the Declaration’s value and on-going capacity to inspire because we share elements of the one same truth. Out of the sufferings of war, with the deep wounds and lacerations it inflicted, and the grave attacks on the dignity of persons and peoples, humanity united to affirm “the value of the human person”,6 together with the due respect and protection. From all places and cultures, the nations of the world proclaimed universal truths, universal rights and universal values. We are aware that the “cold war” impeded application of the Declaration, but we are also aware of the great possibilities that the present era can derive from the so-called “globalization”.

This means a globalization that is not limited to purely economic aspects but involves other realities and dimensions that have to converge in recognition of the dignity of the human person and pass through a whole body of ethical values that have a binding force. In his message of November 30, 1998, John Paul II paid explicit homage to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when he described it as “one of the most valuable and significant documents in the history of law”. 8 The rights articulated in the Declaration constitute an integrated whole with the affirmation of the dignity of every person as its common basis. The curtailment of any right violates a person’s humanity.

For this reason, the present document is not just an “anniversary celebration” of the document published in 1948, but a call to all those who recognize the centrality of the human person and the family as the fundamental and irreplaceable nucleus capable of generating the society which will respond to the world we are hoping for. The building up of that society is a noble and difficult task of humanity. We focused on two inseparable areas: the family and life in relation to the historic Declaration. One aspect of fundamental importance for the promotion of human rights is recognition of the “rights of the family”. This implies the protection of marriage in the framework of “human rights” and of family life as an objective of every juridical system. Challenges such as threats to survival, the “culture of death”, violence, the lack of safety, under-development, unemployment, migrations, distortions by the communications media, etc.

We are aware that it is possible and even necessary to introduce and carry forward a dialogue based on human reason regarding society and the principles and ethical requirements that must guide human coexistence. 10 No other way can be seen to proceed on common bases with non-believers. However, we would like to develop our reflection in a vision in which faith and reason converge. The characteristics that make up man’s being have always been sought. The concepts of person and dignity are related to one another but not identical.

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The person refers to being in its highest degree of perfection with its three characteristics of subsistence, spirituality and totality. Dignity refers first to a quality of being, a value that can be opposed to a countervalue. Every person as such has an innate dignity that must be recognized and respected. As the image of God, man has been created through an act of love. God wanted to give man a nature that was different from the whole created order. We all share in existence in a personal way through God the Creator himself. As a personal creature endowed with reason and free will and called to eternal happiness, each human being reflects something of divine magnificence.

The family is the pre-eminent, most favorable and irreplaceable place for the recognition and development of a personal being on its way to complete dignity. In the family the first steps in human development are taken. In it one is forged not only in the maternal uterus but, as St. Thomas points out, in a “spiritual uterus”.

18 In this family and formational context, the process of education and promotion of a human being begins. Respect for human rights is necessary for the human development of persons in the community. These values include life itself, health, knowledge, work, the community and religion. Above all, “the family is in fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is communion: communio personarum”. Since all men are persons, the Holy Father has defined the fundamental institution of society as a “communio personarum”. The concept of the dignity of a human being must always be the key to interpreting the 1948 Declaration. This is mentioned in the first paragraph of the Preamble, taken up in the first article, and subsequently repeated throughout the whole Declaration.

All the affirmations, principles and rights mentioned in the Declaration were written and must be interpreted in the light of the dignity of a human being. The Declaration gathers up the fruits of humanity’s historical heritage. Moreover, the Christian understanding of man makes it possible to arrive at a deeper foundation of this reality by making it known that man is the only being who has worth in himself and not only by reason of the species. 23 It thereby records that this dignity is a reality that emanates from man’s essence, i. In the Declaration, the dignity of the human being is put in relation to the reason and conscience with which the human being is endowed 24 and thus to his free will. On the other hand, the Declaration affirms and recognizes the full equality of every person 26 and hence prohibits all forms of discrimination or limitations of one’s rights on the basis of “race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Everything that is stated about the dignity, rights and duties of the human being holds equally for men and for women.

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The common dignity of men and women and their reciprocity is the authentic basis for affirming their complete dignity. Reciprocity implies in fact that there is neither a static and undifferentiated equality between men and women, nor an inexorable and irreconcilable conflictual distinction. As both a right and a duty,29 work expresses and fulfills the dignity of human beings. 30 and makes the growth of civilization possible. The whole of society and the organizations and policies of the States must generate conditions that will lead to making it possible for everyone to work.

The specific contribution that a father and a mother offer through their work to society should be recognized. Concretely, in a family, a man and a woman complement one another’s work and cooperate with one another for the full realization of their conjugal life and the upbringing and well being of their children. The affirmation of the dignity of every human being has as its immediate and fundamental consequence the fundamental right to life which is recognized in article 3 of the Declaration: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”. Human beings have this right from the very moment their existence begins, i. From the first instant of his conception, man received his personal reality from God. The person has a dignity in his being that is innate: that is, both the person and his dignity are situated on the ontological plane. First of all, man has the right to life, the fundamental key to all the other rights as an inviolable right that is guaranteed and protected in every situation, not only by State laws and policies, but also through a real culture of life, “for no offense against the right to life, against the dignity of any single person, is ever unimportant”.

Article 3 of the 1948 Declaration states that “Everyone has the right to life”. This principle was developed by the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1959, whereby “a child, because of its lack of physical and mental maturity, requires special protection and care, including due legal protection both before and after birth”. International Law thereby affirms a principle of the Roman-canonical juridical tradition whereby the unborn human individual exists as a person. The rights of the unborn and their personality were already formulated by Ulpian, Justinian, Gratian and other teachers of law since ancient times. Judaic, Christian and Moslem thought converge along these lines. On the other hand, any legislative attempt that presumes to encourage the “right” to abortion or other forms of negating unborn life clashes with what has matured in international legislation. Life can never be downgraded to the level of a thing.

The family is the primary institution for the protection of children’s rights. For this reason, the child’s interest requires its conception to take place in marriage and through the specifically human act of conjugal union. The gift of human life must be actualized in marriage through the specific and exclusive acts of husband and wife, in accordance with the laws inscribed in their persons and in their union”. The bond between the mother and the conceived child, and the irreplaceable function of the father make it necessary for the unborn child to be welcomed into a family which assures, as far as possible and in accordance with natural law, the presence of its mother and its father. The father and the mother, as a couple, with the characteristics proper to them, procreate and raise the child. The unborn child has a right to be identified by its parents’ name, to its heritage, and thus entitled to protection of its identity.

The unborn child has a right to a standard of life sufficient for its full psycho-physical, spiritual, moral and social development, even in the event that its parents’ marriage bond is broken. Parents have the primary responsibility of raising and educating their children in order to ensure their integral development and an adequate level of social, spiritual, moral, physical and mental well being in order to achieve this. For this purpose, both the laws and the services of the State are called on to cooperate in giving the family adequate support. In conformity with the principle of subsidiarity, only when the family is not in a position to protect the interests of the unborn child to a sufficient degree shall the State have the duty to provide special measures for its protection, in particular: assistance to the mother before and after delivery, the cura ventris, prenatal adoption and guardianship. By reason of their particular condition and the abuses to which they are exposed, girls and young women require special provisions for their protection. Like all handicapped persons, handicapped children are all the more entitled to the protection and assistance required by their condition. Therefore, the State should help the family to accept the handicapped, favor their integration into society, and to let them benefit from the special provisions for their condition so that they can fully enjoy all their fundamental rights.

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The task of deepening the meaning of the right to adoption is very topical, while always keeping in mind that “the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration”,47 without mixing this with other kinds of consideration, as noble as they may seem. In the light of this higher interest, the categorical rejection must be confirmed of the alleged right to adoption by “de facto unions”, and especially by same sex unions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights exhorts all human beings to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. 48 In this statement, the document is in harmony with Christian social thought and its defense of human solidarity.

For participation to achieve its full meaning, it must be consciously practiced and chosen. The social virtue of solidarity is the will to participate in the search for social justice. It should not be forgotten that “the exercise of solidarity within each society is valid when its members recognize one another as persons”. Our solidarity with the whole human family implies a special commitment to the most vulnerable and marginalized. They should be a privileged category for the love and care of others. The natural unity of the human family cannot be fully achieved when peoples are suffering from poverty, discrimination, oppression and social alienation that lead to isolation and detachment from the community at large. However, our commitment in love must be voluntary if it is to be virtuous.

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In a special way, solidarity urges us to seek relations that tend toward equality on the local, national and international levels. All the members of the human community should be incorporated in the fullest way possible into the circuits of productive and creative relations. The peoples of the Third World in particular have suffered the onslaughts of the enemies of life and thus deserve our special attention. Diseases such as AIDS, malaria, etc. These ills impede the peoples’ full development and productivity and keep them from joining the rest of the human family on an equal footing. However, it is necessary to proceed with caution so that interventions in foreign countries will be respectful of the integrity of local cultures and economies.

Too often, in the name of solidarity, foreign aid goes to corrupt governments and does not reach those who need it most. Moreover, many forms of intervention create local distortions that give rise to dependence rather than equal conditions by destroying the means for self-sufficiency. As the first natural community, the family is the exemplary place for solidarity. In the family human beings gradually become aware of their dignity, acquire a sense of responsibility, and learn to give attention to others. In the family, solidarity develops beyond the spouses’ love relation and extends to the relations between parents and children, siblings, and inter-generational relations.

Men and women share the benefits and burdens of solidarity equally. Equal dignity does not mean undifferentiated uniformity. Having been called by the Creator to live in relations of communion, reciprocity and solidarity, men and women contribute in an original way to the family and to society. A true “culture of equality” is one which accepts and respects the original contributions of both men and women.

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As persons, men and women share fundamental common dimensions and values. In each of them, however, the values are different in strength, interest and emphasis, and such diversity becomes a source of enrichment. Therefore, solidarity is fully achieved when women and men cooperate with one another in reciprocal and complementary relations. The Church recognizes and supports the State’s indispensable duty to defend and promote human rights.

Political institutions have the natural responsibility to provide a fair juridical framework so that all the social communities can cooperate in achieving the common good. This common good has to be considered on the broadest level as being universal. The raison d’être of political society is the exercise of power with recourse to coercion, if necessary. This distinction confirms the well-grounded principle of subsidiarity. Whereas political society has constant recourse to power, its agents and rules, civil society makes use of affinities, voluntary alliances and natural forms of solidarity. During the last decades, a negative impact has been produced because the family has suffered the same attacks which the State has made on other intermediate bodies by suppressing them and trying to govern them in its own image.

The Universal Declaration warns about these deviations. It recognizes the right of a man and a woman to marry 55 and to found a family. In line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II recalled that the family is the “first and living cell of society”. 56 The Declaration emphasizes that this “fundamental and natural” 57 cell requires the protection not only of the State but also of society. 58 It recognizes the right to religious freedom, including the right of believers to associate with others in worship and education. 59 Lastly, the Declaration emphasizes the fact that parents have the right to choose and guide their children’s education.

In this regard, it is good to recall that the family’s educational mission has its normal complement in the educational institutions. Parents “share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity”. Naturally, as many psycho-pedagogical studies indicate, a child’s early years are decisive in the subsequent formation of its personality. Therefore, the fact that parents can entrust their children to educational institutions of their choice is not only of interest to the children but also to society.

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Nonetheless, as the example of many countries indicates, including countries that are considered “developed”, an effective means of destroying the family consists in depriving it of its educational function under the false pretext of giving all children equal opportunities. In this case, the “rights of children” are invoked against the rights of the family. Today the family needs special protection by the public authorities. While the family has been oppressed by the State at times, now the family also finds itself exposed to attacks by private groups of non-governmental organizations, transnational bodies and public organizations. The State has the responsibility to defend the sovereignty of the family because it constitutes the fundamental nucleus of the social fabric.

Moreover, to defend the sovereignty of the family is to contribute to the sovereignty of nations. Today, in the name of ideologies of Malthusian, hedonist and utilitarian inspiration, the family is the victim of forms of aggression that go as far as to question its existence. What is worse is that under the impulse of international public organizations, presumably “new models” of the family are being put forth which include single parent homes and even homosexual unions. While an exacerbated liberal individualism is exalted together with a subjectivist ethic that encourages the unbridled search for pleasure, the family also suffers the resurgence of new expressions of Marxist socialism. We are aware that the Holy Father, and in following his footsteps the Pontifical Council for the Family, have already spoken out many times about these ideologies which are not only anti-life and anti-family but also destructive of nations. The various rights of individuals and communities mutually reinforce a culture of freedom in which human beings can contribute to the common good. In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms in many ways that human beings are perfected through individual initiative, private associations and political engagement for the sake of the common good.

The practical recognition of the rights of the institution of the family in the framework of the development of human rights cannot ignore the original words, the end and the spirit of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The future of humanity passes through the family”. 73 For this reason, it is in the treatment that peoples give to the family through recognition of its fundamental, irreplaceable value or, on the contrary, through the various forms of neglect, hostility and harassment that hinder its mission, that the future of humanity will pass. We offer the rich contribution of commissions that worked on various topics. Due to the working method, there may be some repetitions which nonetheless enrich the reflections. Some experts from the Acton Institute also cooperated in this endeavor.

The Pontifical Council had the opportunity to commemorate this event in advance when it held the Second Meeting of European Politicians and Lawmakers from October 22-24, 1998 on the theme: “Human Rights and the Rights of the Family”. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, 11463, 144. John Paul II, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1999, 81298, 3. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble. Charter of the United Nations, Introduction. Even when the number of signers was relatively small.

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John Paul II, Message to H. Didier Opertti Badán, President of the 53rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, 301198. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 6893, 99. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, 18. Saint Thomas Aquinas, ST, I, q. John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, 2294, 7. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, 15888, 23.