Friday, August 19, 2016

Let Children Be Children!

In July, I visited Melilla, an autonomous Spanish city in Northern Africa by Moroccan border as part of my professional work. We were there facilitate training to better prepare their local people on how to provide appropriate psychosocial support to migrant and refugee children in Melilla. Almost all of the incoming children see Melilla as a stepping stone to move on to Europe. However, in most cases, these children are held in Melilla with little to no resources in the name of ‘protection’.

I saw children stuck in Melilla not only physically but also psychologically and socially. These children leave their homes, their mothers and fathers, their friends, the world they grew in and the good and the bad of it to go to Europe, their dream destination. They come from various countries: Morocco, Mali, Algeria and Syria. They leave their place because they are too tired of the suffering back home or they are pulled by the dream of availing themselves of the opportunities that are available in the rest of the world. But the rest of the world doesn’t always understand them, it mixes its own fears and agendas to their innocent dreams and aspirations. The local administration is trying to do what they can according to what they think is right. They have devised a protection system for these children. The children are trapped in places like Melilla, where ‘protection’ takes the form of iron bars around their lives and plans for future.

The children are not accepted for who they are: values, thoughts, dreams and aspirations. They are forced to become what the new destination wants them to be as soon as they arrive. Local systems are forced on them without explanation or care. If they happen to fall out of it, they are branded as ‘anti-socials’ or ‘bad’ without any delay. They are perceived as criminals, not only by the law and order personnel, but also by other citizens in the receiving society.

We witnessed, a restaurant waiter hit one of the children because he was begging for food. But what would a child do when he is forced to live in a center with a capacity of 180 but is holding 320+ children at any given time? We met with a few workers in these centers, they too are burned out. Anybody would run away, especially the one who is already on the run from misery and suffering. They didn’t give up everything they had to succumb to more suffering. And when they leave the centers and try to fend for themselves, they are not allowed to work by the law, not even for a couple of hours. Please note, many of these children are between 16-18 years.

My perception was that the so called protection system is not in place to protect the best interest of the child but to protect Melilla from these children. On the contrary, if the system would genuinely protect the well-being of children, they will not be considered a threat to the society. If their resilience is acknowledged and enhanced, they can actually contribute positively to the society if given an opportunity.

All we need to do is listen to these children with empathy and device programs and activities that fall within the local laws but also synchronize with their dreams and aspirations. All the relevant actors from law and order departments, civil society organizations and other non-governmental organizations must collaborate to prepare these children to embark on a journey that is positive for them as well as for the communities they will become part of in Europe. Below is my humble request to the adults of Melilla and other receiving cities where children are held against their wishes with meager resources just to control their movement:

Let the children travel on the sun rays,

Let them sail on the waters,

Let them fly with the wind,

Let them ride on the clouds,

Let them glide along the birds,

Let them explore the sand.

Let children be children,

Let no boundaries limit their aspirations,

Let no laws crush their dreams,

Let no differences demean their dignity,

Let no barrier hinder their path,

Let no fear cut their wings.

Children are born to play and explore,

Let them chase their desires,

Let them break the walls,

Let them question the rules,

Let them infect us with their innocence,

Let them fall and rise again.

Let us behave like adults,

Let us protect them and their dreams,

Let us listen to their deepest feelings,

Let us provide a safe space for them to express,

Let us support them in their vulnerable moments,

Let us extend our hand when they fall,

Let us nurture their childhood,

Let us let them be children!


  1. I've been reading about the plight of Syrian refugee children. This is the first real-time encounter I've read. How sad! At least this shouldn't happen to children. Childhood needs to be beautiful. As I read your post, all I could was pray for these little lives.

  2. Yes, it is very sad, Nandhini! Met with a boy, he must be about 16 yrs old. He came from his home in Morocco and just sits by the ocean waiting for the day when he can hide in a boat and reach the shore of European continent. I am mother of a 16 year old too, it was heartbreaking to talk to this child. But most of local population see children like him as criminals :-(

  3. Pained to see the plight of such children. Thanks for writing this article with such sensitivity


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