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The case for defending children and their advocates

  • 25 February 2015

My youngest grandchild is soon to have his second birthday. Orestes had a very rocky start to life: a serious operation on the day he was born meant that his health was an up-and-down business for more than a year, but now he is much stronger, growing like a weed, and generally enjoying life.

The Greeks say that your grandchild is your child twice over. I’ve never been quite sure about this idea, but I know I feel extra-protective towards Orestes, and cannot bear the thought of more medical ordeals or of any harm befalling him. The default position of both parents and grandparents is fear.

Fear is certainly the lot of many parents here in Greece at present, and has been for a long time. At the start of the krisi, many desperate parents left their young children in orphanages and hospitals: they could not afford to feed and clothe them. Last year a child died because her mother did not have the money to buy vital medicine, and a recent report states that a quarter of the children in Athens go to school hungry. 

Children have always suffered and have often been exploited; it is only recently that they have been regarded as being children at all, rather than as mini-people. We have great reformers like Dickens and Lord Shaftesbury to thank for the raising of consciousness that began in the nineteenth century. But the process was slow: at the turn of that century the grandmother of an English friend was sent to work in the local mill.  She was eight, and of course she was not the only one.

It is a sad axiom, though, that there is always someone worse off. Multiply that someone by thousands. An inveterate reader of newspapers, I have just learned about a one-year-old Syrian child who has spent most of her short life in a cellar as some sort of protection against barrel bombs which, one report says, have killed approximately 20,000 people in Syria.

Then there was the piece about David Nott, a British surgeon who has been taking unpaid leave for six weeks of the year for nearly 20 years in order to volunteer in war zones. But he says he has never seen anything worse than the situation in Syria, about which he despairs. Most of the casualties are children who, like the one-year-old, are sheltering with their families as best