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Never Too Young

Reflections on Perth’s Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees 2019

A light drizzle drips off brightly coloured umbrellas as a crowd of dedicated supporters gather from across Perth to demand justice for refugees. Shivering in the chill as we dodge the pavement puddles, I am struck by the vast diversity of people in attendance. Culturally diverse families, individuals and friends as well as charities and non-government organisations, faith groups, politicians, student groups, the elderly… and children.

Traditionally, politics is a realm outside the scope of children’s understanding. They’re excluded from the electoral system and shielded from economics, social injustices and government policy; issues which are considered to be “adult matters”. Rendered voiceless, children have limited political agency and minimal opportunity to bring their views to the political table.

For this reason, I am particularly intrigued by the participation of children in what is clearly the community’s call for political change.

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 9.29.11 am
Two children wearing Amnesty International “Human Rights Defender” t-shirts.
Image: Nita Alexander 2019

 

A small child waves a banner of support from high on their father’s shoulders while a solemn rendition of refugee poetry is performed. On the cathedral steps, are two children wearing bright Amnesty International t-shirts with the bold statement of “Human Rights Defender”. After a blessing for the march by Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy, the crowd begins to chant and move through the city streets. Another child scoots along in roller shoes as they echo the words:

“Free, free, free! Free the refugees!”

It is clear that the children are actively engaged in the rally. None are protesting their presence as if they have been dragged along unwillingly by eager parents. They are participating with understanding and vigour.

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 9.29.26 amA group of Amnesty International members, including children, preparing to march.
Image: Nita Alexander 2019

 

In an age where child activism is on the rise, political and social commentary frequently disregards their voice as if they are mere puppets under the direction of manipulating adults. Politicians disregard children’s message, instead focussing on whether they should be “allowed” to protest or whether they even understand what they are protesting about. Media labels them as “brats” that are “headed for the dole queues”.

Yet, compassion seems to be a natural child response to those in need. During the rally Gemma, 10, says, “refugees escape their country wanting a place where they can feel safe with their families but we are giving them the complete opposite.” Likewise, 8 year-old Tommy can see no justification for detaining refugees and says, “the government can’t put them in prison when they’ve done nothing wrong”.

The horrors of human rights abuses and the tragedies of war-torn countries are not something that need fill the minds of children who, only through privilege of birth, are spared such experiences. Yet, the profound logic of their child-like understanding puts to shame the twists and turns of political narratives that continues to punish those that need protection.

We no longer live in an era where “children should be seen and not heard” and occasions such as the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees are invaluable opportunities for parents in the community to expose their children to age-appropriate conversations about equality, fairness and human rights for all people. Each child that participates is being socialised to develop a politically engaged conscience that values all human life as equal.

No one is ever too young to show compassion and to stand up for what is right.

 

Words by Nita Alexander 

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