The 33rd General Assembly of the Federation finished successfully last month in Chiangmai. Throughout the whole General Assembly, the theme “Talitha Cum – Arise to life in Abundance” provoked a lot of discussion among SCMers from all over the world. The whole question of the Federation’s life and vision was challenged seriously. Is the Federation dead already? Or is the Federation in a deep sleep? If the Federation is neither dead nor sleeping, why the Federation is not so visible in the campuses as well as ecumenical communities? What should be the Federation’s vision to “arise to life in abundance”? Is the vision still relevant to the societies, churches and campuses?
Through thematic workshops on globalisation, higher education, justice and peace, ecumenism and inter-religious cooperation, the delegates of over 70 movements from the world, reaffirm the Federation’s vision toward the Reign of God: “Through the work of Holy Spirit, the WSCF is called to be a prophetic witness in church and society. This vision in nurtured by a radical hope for God’s reign in history.”
In terms of structural basis of Federation to realise the said vision, the 33rd General Assembly reconfirmed that the Federation should be based on movement-oriented structure rather than an institutional one.
All the delegates of the Assembly recognised that the Federation is situated at a critical juncture of time confronting with the most crucial call to the faith: the call to arise from death to life! In order to make the Federation’s vision relevant to the world where the power of death prevails, the Federation should respond quickly and profoundly to the challenges given by the societies and churches. It is a kairotic time for the Federation as the movements move forward to a “life-centered vision and mission” and to proclaim the good news of life for all.
In this issue, we reflected the kairotic significance of the Assembly’s theme “Talitha Cum” where in Perspective, you will find the full text of Dr. Musa Dube’s bible study to the Assembly; in Women’s Space, Talitha Cum from the Feminist Perspective; in Solidarity, Jerome Porres, the Humans Rights intern of WSCF AP to DAGA analysed the decade long conflict in Sri Lanka.
Finally, on behalf of all movements in the region, the Asia-Pacific office would like to bring a sincere gratitude to all Praxis readers for your prayers and support for the Federation’s 33rd General Assembly.
Shin Seung Min
by Musa Dube
Since the opening of the assembly, it became clear that WSCF has been struggling to find itself in the story of Talitha Cum and to interpret the theme for itself/themselves. I have looked around to see the visual interpretations of the theme, Talitha Cum. The assembly outer cover is resolute that the girl is up, alive, laughing and happy. The WSCF Africa poster features a girl who is rising. It is not clear if WSCF is represented by the little girl who is rising or the masculine woman who is extending her hand to lift her up, or both. Whatever the case, life is evident in their poster. She is rising into life in abundance. Then of course, through our papers, comments and discussions we have been interpreting the theme for ourselves. Since Saturday, it became clear that WSCF has been reading itself as the little girl who is being called out of sleep; the little girl who is rising or who is dead and still awaiting the touch of life. This interpretation was an important self-critical analysis. However, this dragged on for too long, until someone said, “STOP!! WSCF is alive and kicking. Did you not hear the regional reports? Did you not see for yourself that it happening? WSCF is alive.” Somehow, this brought us back to the outer cover of the conference visual portrait of the theme. I take it that we have made an important journey for ourselves, to interpret the theme of Talitha Cum: Arising to life in abundance. I want to continue this conversation with you this morning by basing our Bible study again on Mark 5: 21-43 from a narrative point of view.
A narrative analysis asks the question: “how does the story mean?” (Malbon1992: 24). In and through this question, the reader pays attention to the narrative rhetorical devices of conveying meaning such as plot, setting, characters, narrator, narratee, implied reader, repetition, juxtaposition, symbolism and irony. How these narrative devices are constructed is designed to persuade the reader to take certain perspectives and to distance themselves from other perspectives. In short, a narrative is not neutral; neither does it expect its reader to be neutral. If you are treated to a story, then you are also expected to respond to its worldview.
The opening setting of the story of Talitha Cum is by the lake. Jesus has just landed in a new place, using a boat. He has just come from a place where he freed a man of a legion of demons. He is surrounded by crowds. But then the story takes us on a journey from the open public space, by the lake, where Jesus is thronged by crowds, to a private space, Jairus’ house, where Jesus restricts entry into the place where the sick, dying and dead child was laid. Here he calls, “Talitha cum!” and the child rises and begins to walk about. She must have walked out of her room or the place where she was laid, for crowds saw her and they were ‘overcome by amazement,’ v. 42.
It is the time setting that punctuates this story, determining its tension, its pace and its climax. In a word, this time setting could be named as “an urgent and critical moment.” It is Jairus, the synagogue ruler, who defines this time setting for us. He comes in desperation and pleads repeatedly: “My little daughter is at the point of death.” He pleads with Jesus: “come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” This is how urgent it is—it is a matter of life and death. The main difference lies with the arrival of Jesus in time to lay hands on her and give her the chance to live before death snatches her.
Jesus must have fully grasped the urgency of the time in Jairus’ words and action. Without any word or question, he began to journey with Jairus towards the dying child. Basically, Jesus has received an emergency call. In our own modern days we may choose to hear the cry of and flashing lights of an ambulance as it slides past busy traffic and as every driver is obliged to make way for lifesavers, to give life a chance. Every second and minute counts here. The reader who is invited to travel with Jesus and Jairus is aware of this emergency journey. This urgency adds to the pace of the story, for the reader is aware of the necessity for the plot to be fast forwarded towards Jairus’ house—to save a life which is at the point of death.
But as the saying goes in such moments, “all that can go wrong, will go wrong,” the urgent time is arrested. The plot is diverted. A woman comes from behind. She is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years, and she has sought out many doctors, who seemingly took her money, but did not deliver healing to her body. This woman interrupts the linear plot, by inserting her story into the story of Jairus and his dying daughter. In so doing, she does the unimaginable—she slows down and even stops Jesus from his emergency call.
The bleeding woman began to push her way through towards Jesus. The story tells us that she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well,” verse 28. She touches and she is healed. But, if the woman had expected that her act would go unnoticed, she is out of luck. Even more seriously, Jairus and his daughter were now in a worse situation. Jesus is immediately aware that power had gone out of him. He stops. He turns. He asks, “Who touched my clothes?” verse 30. This question rightfully startled his disciples, given the crowd that is surrounding him, but perhaps given the emergency situation. They respond, “You see the crowd pressing on you; how can you say, ‘who touched my clothes?’” verse 33. Basically, they are saying, it is a ridiculous question. If the woman had expected the answer of the disciples to convince him, it did not. She was again out of luck. Jesus continued to search. As the narrator tells us, “he looked all around to see who has done it!” verse 32. The woman realised that she could no longer hide from behind scenes. Much like Jairus, “she came in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him, the whole truth,” verse 33.
The problem is that the ‘whole truth was, most probably, a twelve year long story of her search for her healing. While Jesus is listening to her, we can feel the impatience of Jairus. Time is not on their side. His daughter is at the point of death. They really did not have time to listen to such a long tale. Jairus’ worst fears are confirmed. Messengers from his house arrive and they say to him, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher anymore?” verse 35. The girl is now outside the tick of time. She is late. The urgency that had so far propelled the plot forward, the journey towards Jairus’ house, has been brought to a full stop. It was too late. They had lost all time. Hence they underline, ‘Why bother the teacher?” verse 35. The readers and the listeners expect the emergency journey to cease, for there is nothing as final as death.
But no, the journey forward continues. Jesus turns to Jairus and says, “Do not fear, only believe” verse 36. They continue walking towards Jairus’ house. At this point of the story, the time setting of urgency is shown to be limited. It has become clear that it is not the defining factor in the progress of the story. The reader/listener is rudely recalled to retrace her/his steps and forced to realise that much is not hanging on time, rather on faith. It was Jairus’ faith that moved Jesus to travel with him to save his sick daughter. It was the woman’s faith that made Jesus to stop and insist on asking, “Who touched me?” Indeed, in acknowledgement of her move, Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease,” verse 34. And so at this time, precisely when the story has lost all time to save the dying girl, Jesus reminds and encourages Jairus to maintain the energy of faith. The story does not give us any hint on how Jairus responded. But it is clear; they walked together to his house. And so they arrive. They find the house in commotion, with loud mourners and wailers. This setting underlines that the daughter is dead. Yet Jesus poses a question to them: “Why do you make commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping?” verse 39. His words could not have been further from reality. The mourning crowds, however, underline that the child is indeed dead, by laughing at Jesus. Death, they insist, cannot be equated to temporary sleep—it is final! The mourners are acting on real time while Jesus is operating on faith.
Jesus enters where the dead child is and takes her hand and says, “Talitha, cum,” and immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (verses 41-42). Much, if not all, is meant to highlight the character of Jesus. Thus the narrative presented him as swamped by a crowd, denoting his fame. The story has shown us both Jairus and the bleeding woman demonstrate incredible faith in the healing powers of Jesus. Jairus believes that Jesus can save a child who is about to die; while the bleeding woman believes that he can heal a twelve year old incurable disease. He can heal a disease that many doctors could not handle. The woman’s expectations are fulfilled, but Jairus gets higher than what he had bargained for. That is, while he believed that Jesus could save his child from dying, Jesus actually returns her from death. The plot that began running on the time line of urgency came to run solely on faith. Why this shift? What is its function and meaning?
In his book, The Art of Biblical Narrative, Robert Alter argues that such changes are in fact pregnant with meaning and should not be glossed over (1981). In this story, the change is in fact an important narrative device in the characterization of Jesus. The reader notes that from the point where the child is declared dead, no other person speaks again, save for Jesus. On this axis of faith, where time is no more, Jairus remains silent, the mourners laugh, and then, I quote, “they were overcome with amazement,” verse 42, when they saw the dead girl walking about. The shift, therefore, moves the reader from the realm of human space of possibilities, where you rush to beat time, to an exceptional space of faith, where not only time is no more, but where the human impossible becomes possible. In this space the dead rise. Death is nothing but sleep to Jesus. For all its powerfulness—death does not have the final word. Jesus does. In this way, the characterisation of Jesus moves from powerful to amazing, from human to divine. Here the plot comes to its height, featuring Jesus as the main actor and it naturally follows that everyone, the mourners, the readers and the listeners, are overcome by amazement, verse 42. They are called to move from living with the human possibilities to the realm of faith, where the impossible are possible.
Given our theme of Talitha Cum arising to life in abundance, this is an invitation to WSCF to walk with the hopeless and give hope; it is an invitation to stop and listen to those who are trying to touch us for healing; it is the role of facing death in the eye and giving hope. The theme of Talitha Cum is an invitation to WSCF; to take up this amazing challenge—the act of actually calling the dying to rise from death to life. Given that WSCF is a movement of Christians, when they read the story of Jesus, they identify with the works and values of Jesus. Jesus is the character that embodies the values and acts that we want to identify with. It is for this reason that we call ourselves Christians—namely, that we are a people who are time and again listening to the story of Jesus and trying as much as possible to walk in the steps of Jesus. In this story, Jesus is therefore the character who throws legions of demons out of a man who is entered and possessed by evil spirits—the powers of the Roman Empire. Jesus is the liberator. In the story of Talitha Cum, Jesus is the character, who is able to feel a desperate woman trying to touch him—in the midst of his fame. Jesus is the character who is able stop and listens. In this story of Talitha Cum, Jesus does not only allow himself to be touched by a stigmatised, unclean bleeding woman, he also welcomes her and calls her, daughter. If we read this story as Christians, we realise that Jesus does not travel and depend of emergency situations—he is not moved or scared by emergency situations. Rather he travels on the ticket of faith. Thus we see that when the messengers come and announce death, Jesus calms Jairus and tells him “Do not fear, only believe.” When he finds the crowds wailing and weeping, he says to them “Why do you weep, the child is not dead, but asleep.” And when he finally finds the dead girl he says to her, “Talitha Cum,” little girl I say, “Arise and she arises.”
We as WSCF, as Christians, when we read the story of Mark 5:21-43, we are in fact challenged to be represent what Jesus represented—namely, to call life back against all the forces of death, be they globalisation, gender inequalities, HIV/AIDS, war/conflicts, violence, hopelessness or stigma etc.
The challenge for us this morning is: how can WSCF Christians stand in the narrative of Jesus work for justice and healing the world? How can WSCF walk and empathise with those who are invaded by HIV/AIDS and pronounce hope and life in the midst of despair and death? How can WSCF relationship with Jesus, at an individual, national, regional and movement level become a point of breaking the bonds of death dealing forces, (colonial, patriarchal, globalisation, gender inequalities and HIV/AIDS exploitation and oppression) and bring healing? While I have no particular formula to give, what I definitely know is that this is a fitting duty for all of us who live in the HIV/AIDS era and who read for healing and liberation.
by Yong Ting Jin
Come celebrate the life of the girl child!
Lamentation and Dreams of a Girl Child 
Because I am a girl …
Because I am a child …
Because I want to live
I was denied my human rights.
Why? Why? Why?
While other children are enjoying
a home and a garden,
the garbage heap is my garden
and the street my home.
Why? Why? Why?
They sing, “Jesus loves the little children...”
does that include me?
They say I am special
do they really mean it?
I must keep going …
I will survive. I will dance. I can dream.
I dream of chasing butterflies and dancing with bamboo trees.
I dream of a safe and loving home,
having clean clothes, good smelling food
and colourful story books.
I dream of going to school.
I dream of becoming a doctor
to heal broken bodies, fever and TB.
I dream of becoming a teacher,
to teach grownups how to treat children well.
I dream of becoming a farmer,
to produce enough rice for all,
I dream of becoming a woman,
strong and gentle, loving, peaceful and wise.
And why not?
The theme you have chosen for this assembly is yet again very significant for the federation and the global ecumenical community. A theme and issue that comes alive! The issue of the girl child is truly one of grave concern for all communities. It is my belief the dire situation of the girl child was instrumental in bringing about the Convention on the Rights of the Child that the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 1989. The issue of the girl child was consequently highlighted and received special attention until it finally entered the agenda at the Fourth World Women Conference in Beijing 1995. It was identified and given priority as the 12th critical area of concern and is integrated into every section of the Beijing Platform for Action. This is brought about by sheer hard work and persistent campaigns of many non-government women organizations and the United Nations Children’s Fund, especially those based in Africa, South Asia and the West.
Even with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and being given priority in the Beijing Platform for Action, what is the life and situation of girl children today? I would like to share with you three sad stories from Malaysia.
Nurulhuda, Haserawati, the trader’s daughter are only three among thousands of children who are victims of sexual abuse in Malaysia. Police statistics between the years 2000 and April 2003, show that there were 2,314 reported cases of child rape nationwide. It is estimated that for every case reported 10 cases go unreported.
Violence against girls such as sexual abuse in various forms is prevalent in many societies and communities worldwide; including the church and religious institutions. The rapists and perpetrators are most often somebody’s grandfather or father, the victim’s own father, relative or friend, or even the church ‘father’/pastor like in this Story of Mabel:
It was a grave crime committed by a pastor and at the same time barangay (smallest unit of the town/city) captain in their place. At 16, Mabel can now recount her story.
There’s this pastor who was fond of her. He gave her money, candies, food then afterwards mashed her breasts and fingered her private parts. This happened from the time she was nine up to when she was 13. When she was only nine years old, he gave her some money to buy candies then brought her to the backyard, removed her panty while she was under the threat that he would wound her vagina if she did not masturbate him.
Years after that incident, the pastor still had the nerve to continue buying things for her. Mabel was asked why she kept following his orders and she replied, “Because he is a pastor I obey whatever he says.”… Today the perpetrator is no longer a pastor but the imprints of the crime will always remain with Mabel.
Many such alarming stories from the Old Testament come to mind.
In Genesis and Judges, two fathers, Lot and the old man of Gibeah (Gen. 19:8; Jud. 19:23-24) offered their virgin daughters to the men of the city to be gang raped in order to protect their male visitors.
In his bargain with God, Jephthah promised the life of the first person who comes to meet him on returning home after a military victory. On reaching home, his only child and daughter rushed out to greet him with great joy. But he sadly kept his vow and presented the life of his daughter as an offering to God (Jud. 11:34-40).
In the New Testament, with great contrast, we come across an entirely different story during the time of Jesus. This story in Mark shows the love of a father, Jairus, for his dying daughter. Jairus, a high-ranking official of the Synagogue loved his only girl child so dearly that he wants to protect and preserve her life. He was desperate; hence he was willing to humbly kneel before Jesus to plead for his little girl’s healing. Let us hear now the story of Mark as it is directly translated from the Greek version of the Gospel.
21 Jesus returned across the Sea of Galilee. When he landed back on the other side, a large crowd gathered. The president of the Jewish community in the synagogue, Jairus, hurried to meet Jesus and fell on his knees pleading with him:
My young daughter’s dying!
Please come and touch her so she can be made well.
I don’t want her to die!
Jesus agreed to see her so they left the shore, making their way towards the house of Jairus. The crowd went along too and was soon making it difficult for him to get to the house.
[WOMAN WITH FLOW OF BLOOD]
35 While the two of them were talking, word was brought to Jairus that his twelve-year-old daughter had died. Don’t worry Jesus about her, the messenger said, Come home and prepare to bury her. Jesus overheard and said gently to Jairus:
God is with you!
Jesus asked Peter, James and John to go with him to the house. There were now so many people there and it was quite noisy as funeral preparations had begun. Jesus went into the house and shouted:
Why have you begun mourning?
The child has not died.
She’s just sleeping!
His words were greeted with jeering and laughter. Jesus sent everyone out of the house and took Jairus, the girl’s mother and his three friends into the room. Taking the girl by the hand he said in a strong voice:
She did, and began walking around. Her parents and Jesus’ companions were overcome with astonishment. Jesus told them not to talk to others about what had happened.
Give her something to eat!
Jesus told her parents.
The life of a girl child is important, and Jesus took Jairus’ little girl’s life seriously. He agreed immediately and left upon hearing the news of her illness. She was a girl child loved most dearly by her father and mother. When news of her death arrived, and Jairus was told not to bother Jesus anymore, Jesus overheard and consoled Jairus: “Don’t panic. God is with you!” and continued his journey there, undeterred. When Jesus stated the child had not died, the “jeering and laughter” of the people gathered around the family also did not disturb him. Instead he focused his attention on the girl, and went to her taking Jairus, the girl’s mother and his three friends.
The story of the daughter of Jairus begins in Mark verse 21, but is diverted almost immediately by another incident from verses 25 to 34: the woman with a haemorrhage. Then it continues from verse 35 and finally ends only in verse 43. It is a scenario with 2 happenings, one placed within the other. We are familiar with these 2 stories as recounted by the writer of Mark’s Gospel.
The writer seems to have an important message to convey to the readers by linking and giving significance to the two “daughters”. The woman suffered and sought for a cure in vain for twelve years, the life-time of Jairus’ daughter. The young girl could have begun to menstruate. A Jewish girl by social custom attains puberty and is ready for marriage but she was on the verge of losing her life. Jesus restored life to the two “daughters”. While the girl is ready to be a mature female, the woman suffers from her femaleness. Jesus brought them wholeness of being—wholeness [shalom] in which they recovered social, religious, and spiritual well-being. Jesus brought them back into the family, social and religious community where they should belong.
Unlike the nameless woman with a flow of blood who was on her own, Jairus was a man of economic, social and religious standing. He had power and authority; he commanded honour and respect as a religious leader. He spoke for his daughter as head of his family. Though the text is silent about the girl’s mother, she might have been heartbroken and felt totally helpless watching her child pass away after twelve hard years of bringing her up into womanhood. Perhaps she played a crucial role in pressing Jairus or agreed with him that he should seek for Jesus their daughter’s healing.
The author of Mark’s Gospel had a central running theme: God’s Reign [Kingdom of God]. Jesus began his mission announcing the Good News of God’s “baseleia” [Kingdom].
Your time is up!
You are about to experience the
presence of God in a new way!
Don’t leave God out of your thinking!
Take God seriously! [Mark 1:15]
Mark 1:15 points to a new time, God’s time “kairos”, God’s presence and participation in human history.
Jesus spoke within the context of Roman domination and oppression over people in Palestine. But the Jewish elite class were collaborators of the system and society. Jesus also rejected the system of religion built on the distinction between the “pure” and “impure” [Mk 7: 1-23; Leviticus laws]. He broke this barrier by coming into close contact with the “impure” haemorrhaging woman and the “polluted” dead girl’s corpse.
Palestine then was also a place influenced by a great number of cultures namely the Greek, Roman, Oriental and Jewish. The society and its social structures were highly hierarchical and patriarchal. More than just speaking against the injustices and evils of the structures, Jesus criticised and refuted the corruption of these religious and political leaders. He called them foxes and vipers, exposing them as ego lovers of power, position and wealth. Hence we see Jesus undermining and confronting many an established tradition and institution in the areas of religion, social practices, norms and politics.
To counter the forces of anti-life, Jesus offered a different vision, the vision of “baseleia”. He spoke of new life and a new way of living, a new order of life which is a transformation for the whole of life. The old system and structures have to go because God’s Reign is now here to stay. Jesus said with the coming of the “baseleia”, the old structures and life styles could not be left intact. As in the parable of the wineskins, it’s like new wine bursting old wineskins calling for the creation of new ones (Mk 2:21-22). Likewise a piece of new cloth is not suitable for an old cloth. His healings were acts of liberation from every force that enslaved or destroyed people. It is in this context and vision that the two healing stories happened: Jesus restored the lives of the woman and little girl. He brought them wholeness of new life, which is a new relationship with God and people, a new way of life in the “baseleia”.
Today, however, the old order of life is still dominant and the anti-life forces continue to prevail. We are pulled and torn in a world of contradictions, and we are told this is globalisation! Violence against girls and women are rampant in our societies and communities at all levels. Consider the next two stories of “Two faces of the Prostituted Girl Child in the Philippines”:
Luisa, 15 years old says: “He succeeded in raping me and even insulted me... My first experience with a customer was really frightening and painful. My genitals were lacerated and I froze…” [A prostituted girl child working in Cebu City, in one of the case studies documented by an organisation working with prostituted children in sex tourism.]
Aida, 13 years old says: “Why are we the ones being pinned down by the community and police officers? What about our partners—the men who use us?” [A child who stalks the streets of Davao City to allegedly engage in “free sex”]
The stories of Luisa and Aida are but two stories of an alarmingly growing number of prostituted Filipino girl children. Luisa is among the estimated 50,000 to 60,000 prostituted Filipino children under the age of 18.
Child prostitution has become a multibillion-dollar industry. Children are bought, sold and traded like consumer goods in mass production. In Brazil alone between 250,000 and 500,000 children are traded for sex, and a recent study concluded that the number of child prostitutes had tripled in Colombia over three years.
But the centre of the child sex industry is Asia. The children’s advocacy groups assert that there are about 60,000 child prostitutes in the Philippines, about 400,000 in India and about 600,000 in Thailand. Most of the children are girls under 16. The figures by now would have increased greatly.
The problem of using girl children and women as sex objects lies deep in the ideology of patriarchy that values the male gender. Hear now the pitiful cry of a girl child in a poem that reveals the reality of female infanticide in India where there is a preference for the boy child.
Oh! Spare Me!
Oh! Spare me, my mother,
Grant me my right to life.
Let not my voice be hushed,
Just because I am a girl.
Allow me the view of the golden sunrise,
Springing from the mighty sea.
Let each flower smile on me,
“Life is full of hope”, they say.
Not my fault, to be a girl,
Nip me not in the bud itself,
Crush not precious life out of me,
Let me blossom forth, in this garden of humanity.
Oh! Spare my life, dear mother,
Give me a chance to thrive,
To fulfill God’s unique plan,
For transmitting life through me, too.
There is a similar reality in China, and many other countries in varying degrees. A case study on female infanticide in India and China presents this summary:
The phenomenon of female infanticide is as old as many cultures, and has likely accounted for millions of gender-selective deaths throughout history. It remains a critical concern in a number of “Third World” countries today, notably the two most populous countries on earth, China and India. In all cases, specifically female infanticide reflects the low status accorded to women in most parts of the world; it is arguably the most brutal and destructive manifestation of the anti-female bias that pervades “patriarchal” societies. It is closely linked to the phenomena of sex-selective abortion, which targets female fetuses almost exclusively, and neglect of girl children.
In China, since the one child per family policy was introduced in 1979, 15 million female babies have gone missing from China’s demographics.
Martha Pushparani wrote, “In South Asia, the issue is more glaring. It is obvious that the female population here is going down. This is due to female child mortality, female foeticide, infanticide, child abuse, early work burden, sexual abuse, denial of childhood rights of education, and lack of health care and nutrition. In India particularly high rate of female infanticide due to dowry harassment is the basic social problem which demands greater attention.” She said: “The institutions of family, religion and caste have always valued boys more than girls and have taken full social and physical control of the girl child.”
It is precisely in this context that the word of Jesus rings true. Healing and wholeness is clearly a visible sign of God’s Reign. For in the new order of life there is no place for such evil structures and acts of violence. There is no denial of one’s human value, dignity, and self worth, as girls are made in the image of God as boys. Jesus acted with urgency to bring wholeness to the little girl who was sick in body, to all suffering girl children who are violated and wounded in body, mind and spirit. Jesus made a specific inclusion of children in Mk 10: 14 “for to such belongs the kingdom of God” [RSV] or “It is children like these who help us understand that God is present in our midst”. We are God’s agents to bring healing and wholeness to all suffering children, most especially girl children, for they belong to the Reign of God.
An important unpublished document was produced by an expert group in preparation for the “High-level Intergovernmental Meeting on Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, Bangkok, on 22-24 March 2004”. The issue of the girl child was one of the twelve areas under review by this expert group that examined the gaps and challenges related to achieving the commitments of the Beijing Platform of Action for Women. The document had this to say:
L. The Girl-child
The problems of mortality and malnutrition among female children remain high in some parts of the region. The same is true for the vulnerability of girls to HIV/AIDS, juvenile prostitution and child pornography. Female genital mutilation, child marriage, early pregnancy, gender-selective abortion, and female infanticide are some of the results of son-preference customs and practices. Where girls are subjugated by tradition and customary practice to lower status than boys, they have less access to food, health care and education.
Emphasis is being given to the dissemination of information on sexual and reproductive health to young adolescents. Violence against children in all its forms—sexual exploitation, child prostitution, child pornography or rape—must be addressed. Because children, unlike adults, are incapable of protecting themselves, their right to be protected against violence and exploitation must be legally provided for.
Thousands of adolescents (especially girls) each year are being subjected to sexual abuse, violence and trafficking (both inter and intra-regional). The fear caused by the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the region has exposed and highlighted the dangers of lack of youth-friendly reproductive health information and services for young people. In many countries, the topic of adolescent sexuality is politically and culturally sensitive; health-care providers have negative attitudes towards unmarried adolescents, particularly females seeking family planning services and diagnosis and treatment of STDs; and adolescents themselves are reluctant to use the services out of fear, ignorance or social stigma. Besides, the quality of adolescent reproductive health services is poor. While private clinics do provide better services, the cost acts as major deterrent discouraging adolescents seeking such services.
This also leads to the issue of the labour (paid and unpaid) of children, especially girl-children. It has been estimated that the largest child labour population in the world is to be found in the Asian region—120 million between 5 to 14 years of age who are fully at work and more than twice that many (an estimated 250 million) for whom work is at least a secondary activity (ILO-IPEC 1997). The majority of child labourers in South and South-East Asia are to be found in home-based, agricultural or informal sector and service activities, although there are some cases in manufacturing employment as well. These reflect the fact that the rapid economic growth in some sectors and regions—along with widespread poverty of the labour supply households—has involved the drawing of children into commercial and industrial activity.
It has been noted that girls are being disproportionately employed for work in urban and rural areas in comparison with boys, and there is a significant correlation of this trend with the relative rates of school dropout for boys and girls. Certainly in home-based work, there tends to be a heavy emphasis on the unpaid labour of the girl-child, including not only such activities as childcare and housework, but also piecework under putting-out arrangements. The drastic reduction of spending on social welfare and safety nets and reduced government budgets on essential services to the poor in countries that are experiencing economic crisis and/or structural adjustment programmes, is likely to contribute directly to the growing incidence of child labour, both by increasing poverty in wage-based households and reducing the availability of public services. The issue of female child labour may thus become one of growing significance.
As mentioned earlier, the girl child is accorded all the rights within the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989. However, persistent discrimination and violation of the rights of the girl child prevail. Ten years after Beijing 1995, even though the rights of the girl child is acknowledged, the implementation of the Convention for the girl child is still far from the mark. Indeed it is a critical area of concern for all.
“Taking the girl by the hand, he (Jesus) said in a strong voice: “Talitha, koumi, Little girl! Get up! Jesus came to touch and speak directly to the little girl. The girl awoke, stood up and began to walk about. Her parents and the three men were astonished. What is going to happen to the girl and her parents or family now? Could their life be normal again, like before as though nothing had happened? Would the parents who had a foretaste of Jesus’ new order of life follow the Jewish tradition of marrying her off as a girl child at 12 or a few years later? Except for her action of walking about, the text is silent about what would happen thereafter.
But we know in Jewish culture, a girl of her age is mature and ready for marriage. She is facing two things: a transition towards womanhood; and “she is likely to pass from the authority of her father to that of her husband”. Living under a patriarchal culture, she is subjected to the religious law of purity and impurity when she goes through the menstrual cycle. She is “vulnerable to subjugation, abuse and violence because she is woman. Reaching womanhood is perhaps even considered death.” We do not know exactly how the young woman’s life turned out to be.
But many of us know child marriage has existed for centuries. It has long been a crucial issue. While many women living in this modern age of globalisation are getting married at a later age, there are still more than 51 million adolescent girls aged 15-19 who are married. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) recently launched a photo essay giving voice to the stories and experiences of women like Rakiya, Rohini, Bijli and Takia. Hear the story of Rakiya:
Rakiya is one of the women who shares her story in this photo essay. She was married at 12 in Nigeria. Rakiya sells bean cakes by the side of the road to pay for food and her boys’ schooling.
As a young girl, she dreamed of an education for herself. But she would never see the inside of a classroom. Instead, betrothed at 11 and married at 12, she was continuously raped within marriage. Her own father beat her into submitting to her husband. And two months before her 13th birthday, she delivered her first child.
Widowed at 20, with five children-and a sixth on the way-Rakiya sold everything she owned to feed her boys. When there was nothing left, she sold herself. Finally, she resolved to find another way. So Rakiya sells bean cakes by the side of the road.
“It is the ignorance of our people” that leads to child marriage, Rakiya says. “They believe that the girl will spoil. I never fooled around with men until I found myself in a terrible situation and I had to use what God has given me to feed my children.”
Some reasons cited why girls are married early are due to their gender status; men control her sexuality; economic burden and poverty drive them into early marriages. This often gives rise to negative consequences and great risks for the girl child. They are deprived of basic rights to education, good healthcare, economic opportunities and ordinary life experiences of growing up as girls.
The introduction to the photo essay noted ‘‘the personal stories told in this exhibit are separate and unique. Yet each shares elements in common with the next. Together these stories illustrate that those who have suffered the indignities of child marriage share a commonality of experience that transcends specific circumstances, cultures, countries, and continents.”
Today getting up and walking about are symbolic and significant for the life of the girl child and her right to be fully human, to be independent. Jesus empowered her to rise up and she was free to walk about. Today a girl child waking up to her right and be herself is a milestone. She will claim her identity as a person equal in God’s sight. She will claim her right to be fully human, and equal as the boy child, with full human value, dignity and self worth. She will need to feel safe and live free in the home and not be victims of incest and sexual violence. She will claim her right to walk about freely anywhere and everywhere in the day and night without being afraid of being a victim of sexual abuse and rape in and outside of the house.
Jesus showed concern for the girl’s total recovery of body, mind and spirit by asking the parents to give her something to eat! Jesus gives importance to food as a basic need on her waking up. She needs food to survive and be sustained to live. The parents are primarily responsible to look after her in the family. But she is being brought back into the human and religious community around her.
This brings us back to the role and responsibility of the community. The people crowded around the house on news of her death. The girl was already dead, what could Jesus do? With disbelief and scepticism, they broke into mocking laughter at Jesus’ words that the little girl has not died.
What is the community response and responsibility to the plight of the girl child today? Will they give her food to eat? Nowadays it is not safe for girl children and women to accept food or materials so easily, not even in a church or religious community. The story of Mabel you heard earlier is one horrid experience among many others.
But where and who are the communities and neighbours? “Where is Jairus, where are the Jairuses of today, leaders of the synagogue, fathers of the church, fathers of households… that they may see these little girls…that they may heed women’s call for justice, for life…”
The Jairuses, the jeering crowd, the neighbours, the disciples, the social and religious communities are today the common people, the civic leaders, community and religious leaders, the governments and NGOs, the Church and all the religious communities.
Where is the commitment and responsibility to the prevailing violence against girls in our world today?
Why is the girl child so important? Because you and I have been one! Because your sister, daughter, niece, neighbour’s child are one of them! Because you may be a sister, brother, mother, father, aunt, uncle, neighbour or friend of the girl child crying out for help.
Today women advocates and people committed to the plight of girl children face the same hurdle as Jesus did. Like Jesus, people ridicule them because they spend so much effort and time to highlight the plight of the suffering girl children who are no bodies in our societies and communities.
But getting up and walking about have a new dimension of life. It is a newly created power and energy that has deep significance for the girl children and women today. It is a fresh new call to the ecumenical community to be life-giving to the girl children for they belong to the Reign of God. We are called to be God’s agents to address the issue of the girl child and implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to act and support the elimination of discrimination against girls and women.
Today the girl child is in need of more than food and materials. She needs the community to hold her hand and empower her to rise up to her rightful place and live with dignity and self-respect. She needs the community to walk about with her to challenge traditions, taboos and discrimination against their birth, indeed their very existence. She needs the community to walk about with her and give her a sense of security to walk about freely in and outside of the home.
Today women, young and old, who get up and walk about call for a partnership with all the Jairuses of the family, Synagogue and religious community. The global and ecumenical community are called upon to act as agents of God’s Reign—to address the root causes of the problems faced by the girl child—the danger of female foeticide, infanticide, child labour, all forms of sexual abuse and discrimination, child marriage, child prostitution and trafficking, and so on.
I would like to end here with a poem and some images. This poem exposes the true reality of the girl child with their dream and hope for wholeness of life.
My Daughter 
I welcome you to this world, my daughter,
To unfold the mystery of life,
To change it to a better world before you go back,
To the womb of Mother Earth again!
It was not the same with me in my mother’s womb,
I had to ‘seek and hide’ my sex because of fear.
‘Female’ was a terror and disgust to them,
Though I did not know of harming my parents.
The society said my coming should be banned,
I was a ‘liability’ to my parents and to add,
I was their constant anxiety, as my mom told.
An endless burden of cares!
So it was with me when I was battered,
For more ‘dowry’, for more comforts, by your father,
I felt I was a burden, not only to my parents but
To me too. But, I broke the chains.
Quick. I took my life in my hands,
When the world was too much for me.
It drives me to death.
But I want to live.
Live and safeguard you.
I welcome you, my daughter.
Come celebrate the life of the girl child!
Get up little girl! Get up my daughter!
Get up Luisa, Aida and Mabel!
Get up Rakiya and Rohini
Get up Bijli and Takia!
Get up all named and unnamed girls!
Be whole and arise to life abundance!
Now to all women, SCM and WSCF women, let us embrace this: All sleeping women now awake! Get up and walk! Arise to life!
by Jerome De Porres
Sri Lanka, once called Paradise on Earth and the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, now is more often called the Island of Death. Nearly twenty years of tragic conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) have claimed more than 60,000 lives and displaced some 800,000 innocent Sri Lankans. War has become the life of the island.
The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka began in the days when minorities were severely marginalised and deprived of their rights. According to history, following independence from British colonial rule most of the high level government officials and educated elites were from the Tamil minority. The growing involvement of educated Tamils as government officials created fear among the Sinhala community. This Tamil involvement was seen as a threat to Sinhala politicians, leaders, as well as general communities. By exploiting this fear and suspicion, Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake gathered the most powerful segments of the society—the Buddhist monks, teachers, farmers, indigenous doctors (Vedamahaththaya) and working Class—and created a belief among the Sinhala community that they were in serious danger of being marginalised themselves. In order to fulfill the aspirations of the Sinhala majority, Mr. Bandaranayaka introduced the 1957 “Sinhala Only Act” that directly prevented the increase of Tamil officials in the public sector and was discriminatory in many aspects toward the Tamil community. As one of the outcomes of the Act, a person who wanted a promotion in the public sector had to pass through a Sinhala language examination even if he/she was good enough in all other qualifications. This particular act was a major discrimination against the Tamil minorities whose first language was Tamil rather than Sinhalese. There was no longer room for Tamils to practice their own language in the public sector.
Tamil politicians and communities began to protest against the Sinhala Only Act. Even though the Sinhala politicians agreed to resolve the issue, the Sinhala people did not accept the agreement between Bandaranayake and Selvanayagam (a Tamil Parliamentarian from the North) and it was finally destroyed due to pressure from Buddhist monks. This chauvinist environment was created by Sinhala Nationalism and it totally marginalised the entire Tamil community.
This environment of marginalisation continued and Tamil militancy emerged as an alternative to the democratic Tamil politicians who had failed to achieve significant victories toward Tamil rights. In July 1983 LTTE freedom fighters killed an army patrol in Jaffna. Hearing of that incident, Sinhalese mobs in the South went on a two-day rampage killing several thousand Tamils and burning and looting property in Colombo and other southern cities. This marked a point of no return in the growing conflict. The incidence encouraged Tamil youth to fight against the Sinhala government and demand a separate state. Memories of the 1983 incidents increased the commitment of young Tamils to sacrifice their lives for the right of self-determination for future generations. The LTTE movement grew as a strong freedom fighter’s movement because of the oppression and marginalisation by the majority government.
The majority Sinhalese felt severally pressured by the government to resist the young Tamils, who were fighting for their independent homeland. Thousands of youths were killed on both sides. The North and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka were filled with massacres, aerial bombings, destruction, sexual abuses and refugees, while the rest of the Island began facing suicide bombers, arrests under PTA, increasing cost of living, higher unemployment, poor infrastructure, high inflation, bad economy, etc. The country was now inhabited by two nations, each perceiving itself as endangered and the minority demanding its own self-determination to guarantee economic opportunities and preserve cultural identity.
Terrorism holds various meanings for different people on the Island. In reality, it is created by the state to maintain is control. For the minority communities, the terrorists would be seen as the government or government forces.
Conflict is defined by differences of opinion, behavior and attitude. When an opinion, behavior or attitude seriously differs between two or more persons, the conflict begins. It could be interpersonal or intra-personal. It could be between two or more individuals, between different communities or between ethnic groups. A conflict is a collection of incidents which oppress people, marginalise minorities and limit civil rights. When these incidents go beyond the limits, violent conflict begins. Sri Lankan Tamils have faced a vast number of discriminations and it has now turned into a war for a separate state.
In order to transform a conflict the root causes that paved the way to the conflict must be identified and addressed by the communities involved. Trust should be built among these communities. The situation should be transformed into another, more positive situation. When transforming a conflict, the victims are the most important group to be considered. The civilians who lost their property, whose rights were violated and who lost loved ones should be compensated. Basic needs and infrastructure for victims should be provided for.
Peace talks will not give any favourable solution if they do not respond to the real needs and opinions of the people who have suffer the most in the ethnic war. Particularly in Sri Lanka, opinions on the peace talks should be gathered from marginalised people across the Island. While seeking a lasting peace, ground level activities to meet the people’s basic needs should also be done. Even if infrastructure development is taking place in the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka, such development often does not reach each and every victim who has really been affected by the war. In the name of the High Security Zone (HSZ) policy, vast amounts of land belonging to innocent civilians have been taken over by the government military. HSZ areas cannot be entered by anyone other than by the military forces. Though the ceasefire agreement is in place, thousands of people are still refugees because the lost their lands and houses under the High Security Zone policy. These matters should be discussed and a long term solution found. Otherwise how can a person enjoy real peace if they have lost their land and their homes?
In the peace talks, the case of child soldiers is one of the main concerns of the government, international community, civil society and Tamil people. According to UNICEF there are still thousands of child soldiers in the LTTE. Recruiting child soldiers is also one of the violations of the cease-fire agreement. If these activities are stopped then there is more hope for a lasting peace. If we are really enthusiastic to build a country of peace, these situations must be changed.
Conflict transformation has three major tiers. The government (GOSL) and the freedom fighters (LTTE) are the top level, the Non Governmental Organisations and other social organisations are the middle level and the ground level is made up of the common people. All three levels should be worked at simultaneously. Particularly in Sri Lanka, the GOSL and the LTTE as the top level need to be discussing a long-term solution and work for a lasting peace. NGOs and other humanitarian organisations should be involved in reconciliation, rehabilitation and resettlement of the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). Infrastructure, including basic survival needs, is the first need to be done for war victims.
Dealing with hardliners is also one of the challenges in conflict transformation. Unfortunately Sri Lanka has a sad history of non-corporation within the political parties. Each party that is in power wants to show its power and always restarts the peace talks from the beginning. Not a single politician has tried to think how they can bring forward previous peace talks so that more rapid progress can be made. In a way now the government is trying to build cooperation among the parties, but it remains a challenge to move on with that cooperation.
The church and ecumenical movements were not much involved with conflict transformation in Sri Lanka prior to 1994 with the exception of SCM, a few SCM-oriented senior friends and some Christian-oriented social organisations. SCM was the only Christian and youth organisation able to look at the whole issue politically and in a futuristic manner in order to propose, in 1992, a parliamentary committee that would seek solutions to the ethnic issues, The SCM proposal included establishment of a second chamber and a federal system. SCM, in fact, was a founding member of the leading pro-peace movement in the seventies called the Movement for Interracial Justice and Equality. During 1985 and 1994, due to the war, a lot of churches were destroyed, priests were killed and congregations displaced. Therefore the leaders of the churches were compelled to work for their congregations for resettlement and to bring peace. Churches and ecumenical movements related to the churches began to be involved in a great way in peacemaking and conflict transformation with the space given by the government beginning in 1994. It was also fortunate that Christianity is the only faith where Sinhalese and Tamils can meet together for one common purpose. Therefore it was a great opportunity for developing anew the peace and reconciliation among the people that was destroyed by the war. Through the churches the peace movement spread among the whole community. Churches and the ecumenical movements were the best way to transform the conflict situation to a peaceful situation among the communities.
Particularly in Sri Lanka, The SCM was one of the great starting points in peacemaking in Sri Lanka. The SCM believes that as the followers of Jesus Christ, we cannot discriminate or marginalise people and as a movement and individuals we decided to become deeply involved in the issues of the rights of the people. The SCM statement on the ethnic issue in 1976 clearly indicates this. The SCM always stands for minority rights and against all forms of discrimination again the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka. It works toward a pluralistic society through all its programmes and activities. This includes exposure visits to the north and east, bringing students from the north and east to visit groups in the south, visits of southern students to the north and east, lobbing and pressure to church leaders to address the war situation, and working with other people’s movements on human rights. As the SCM movement believes that discrimination in language is one of the root causes of the conflict, they have tried to encourage the minorities to practice their own language in their activities. From the beginning the SCM, while standing for minority rights, has also been involved in teaching peace and reconciliation among the youth of both Sinhalese and Tamil communities and has brought them into a platform where they could live peacefully and in harmony.
Today, as a result of much hard work of the SCM and its friendly organisations and individuals, the ecumenical movement clearly stands with the devolution of power for a federal system, fulfillment of the rights of Tamils, good governance and constitutional changes. They also stand against the laws and legislations which are truly discriminating against the Tamil minorities, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
There are also a vast number of ecumenical movements which are closely working for conflict transformation. But only a few of them are really willing and enthusiastic to work with the real needs of the victims. Rehabilitation and resettlement of the refugees is one of the main tasks of the ecumenical movement in Sri Lanka. Particularly in the north and eastern provinces, in order to develop a strong foundation for peace, resettlement, vocational training must be encouraged. Churches and the ecumenical movements take care of war victims and infrastructure development as well. Since the early nineties, the churches were silent, but now they are much involved in human rights activism and good governance. But still they are weak in their stand because the churches are now becoming institutions and they are not always seriously considering the real needs of the people who are most affected by this ethnic crisis.
For a lasting peace the issues of plantation workers too should be considered. Ignoring the plantation workers does not give any kind of long-term solution for a peaceful country. Though discussions and exchanges are being held between the LTTE and upcountry politicians, there is not any sort of favourable output yet.
Finally, a lasting peace in Sri Lanka can be achieved if people-to-people dialogue and cooperation among the political parties is done in an effective manner. The role of the ecumenical movement should be more effective and the work they do should be carried on until every person can experience a truly peaceful society.
“Forgiveness never changes the past, But it enlarges the future”