Editor’s Note: This GWF2019 Advance Paper was written by the Catalysts for the Children-at-Risk and the Children and Evangelism Issue Networks as an overview of the topic to be discussed at the related session at the Global Workplace Forum 2019 held in Manila, Philippines. 
The Children and Evangelism and Children-at-Risk Lausanne Issue Groups are partnering to inform and challenge Christians in the workplace regarding the impact of the workplace on all children, including children-at-risk. Both Issue Groups acknowledge the possible transformational impact should ‘the whole church—in every corner of the workplace—as bearers of the gospel ‘ influence the workplace in ways that create and sustain systems, policies, and practices that support the well-being of all, and especially children.
Church leaders, theologians, missiologists, and representatives from child-focused non-governmental organizations from five continents have responded to the Cape Town Commitment (CTC), which emphasizes ministry with the poor, enslaved, and oppressed, specifically children-at-risk. Whether directly or indirectly, many risk-factors children face are linked to decisions made by community and government leaders, corporations, businesses, and employers, all of whom can act in ways that support or undermine the flourishing of children around the world. Before discussing the implications of such decisions upon children, definitions and theological foundations will be provided.
We first define the term: Children-at-risk are persons under 18, including the unborn, who experience an intense and/or chronic risk factor, or a combination of risk factors in personal, environmental, and/or relational domains that prevent them from pursuing and fulfilling their God-given potential.
While it is possible to argue that nearly every child falls within this definition, our key purpose was to highlight situations where children experience significant unmet needs, and where outside engagement is most urgent. The definition is designed to include unmet needs everywhere (poor and non-poor; non-west and west) across all aspects of human experience (spiritual, physical, social, emotional, mental, linguistic, environmental, etc.).
At the same time, our discussions benefitted from an emerging change in adult understandings of the active and vital roles that children play in God’s mission. As a result, in order to expand our vision for mission with children-at-risk our call to action must also describes mission with all children in new ways. At the same time, we contend that the statements made in this document about children apply equally to children-at-risk.
A high view of children
We give thanks for how the Bible presents children, and especially for the life, actions, and words of Jesus Christ. It is because of his example that we affirm a high view of children as whole human beings created with dignity. This view also asserts that:
- All children should be holistically nurtured throughout childhood.
- The supreme story of history and life is God’s. God uses whom God will, including those on the margins of life, where many children find themselves.
- Children can be called by God and hear God’s voice.
- Children can be active participants in worship and service to God.
- The people of God are to respect, listen to, envision, and empower children as vulnerable agents of God’s mission.
- Each of these claims must also be true of children-at-risk.
Our call to repentance
We recognize we have often failed to fully understand and practice mission to, for, and with children. In light of these convictions we are driven to lamentation, anger, and repentance.
We lament the ways and times the Church has not fulfilled its responsibilities to children by:
- Failing to recognize the capacity of children to know, love, and serve Jesus from a very young age.
- Overlooking the work of the Holy Spirit in and through their lives.
- Using children as tokens or decoration in worship and mission, or only sharing stories about them to illustrate immaturity and error.
- Failing to recognize and respond when children have been spiritually manipulated or abused within churches.
- Overemphasizing discipline as punishment and correction and neglecting roles as nurturing shepherds and loving guides.
We are angry about the suffering and exploitation of children-at-risk around the world. We grieve the ways and times that Christians have failed to act for children by:
- Failing to meet children’s most obvious needs when we see them only as souls to be saved. Sick children deserve healthcare. Sad children deserve comforting. Lonely children deserve caring community. They also need to be introduced to Jesus, but not at the cost of neglecting these other needs.
- Blaming the painful circumstances that children-at-risk face solely on their own choices and the choices of their families. This ignores the larger political, social, and economic systems that create risk factors for children and families.
- Resisting collaboration with others in our advocacy efforts, perhaps because we disagree on unrelated concerns. This can even involve failing to consult or fairly represent the children themselves.
We ask forgiveness for the ways and times that our mission efforts have undervalued children as co-labourers with adults in God’s mission by:
- Entertaining children-at-risk with a gospel message that does not address the suffering they face.
- Manipulating children into adult forms of evangelism and service.
Our call to action
We commend families, churches, denominations, mission organizations, non-governmental organizations, schools, and Christians everywhere to join us in mission to, for, and with children.
Mission to children means that we turn toward them, offering what is needed to them and their families for healthy and abundant living in all areas of human development, including introducing them to the gospel of Jesus in meaningful ways.
Mission for children means that we will stand at attention, placing children behind us to shield them from harm as we engage the abusers, exploiters, and systems that hurt them. Specifically, we will:
- Identify risk factors for abuse and exploitation wherever children are found—including within churches, organizations, institutions, communities, families, businesses, policies, and systems. We will promote good practices in reducing or eliminating those risks.
- Protect the vulnerability of all children, especially those who suffer and those at greatest risk.
- Join with others—and especially children-at-risk—to denounce all injustices against children’s dignity and advocate for change in societies. This may involve working with a wide variety of different groups—whether they are Christian, secular, or civic—with openness and sensitivity.
Mission with children means that we will stand side-by-side with them, welcoming them as full church and mission members. At the same time, we must understand and empower their engagement in ways that respect their changing and developing capacities.
What about the workplace?
Some Christians in the workforce have direct contact with children. Teachers, child-care workers, pediatric health care professionals, children’s pastors, social workers, child protection officers, and many other workers in frontline professions have opportunities for mission ‘to, for, and with’ children, and are often vocal advocates for their well-being and against policies and systems that harm them. Yet, adults employed outside of the direct-care areas also have a responsibility to create a world fit for children.
Workplaces across sectors and industries impact children’s well-being, for good or ill. Deuteronomy 24:14 charges the employer:
Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
This passage speaks directly to prompt payment to workers and shows particular concern for the poor. Exploitative labor, whether through inadequate pay or withholding of pay is a hallmark of labor trafficking. Yet it is also the plight of those who lack sufficient income to provide for themselves and their families. Nearly half of the world’s population—3.4 billion persons—lives on less than USD 5.50 per day and global wealth inequality is at a high point with one percent of the world’s population holding 48 percent of overall wealth. These are abstract statistics that represent the lives of families and children, who are disproportionately impacted by poverty.
For example, the prices of health care, food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities directly impact children’s well-being. Parents struggle to pay for doctor visits and medication, to provide nutritious food for their children, and to obtain affordable housing in neighborhoods free of violence. Industries pollute the environment, negatively impacting children’s health, even before they are born, with contaminants the produce birth defects and illness in pregnant women. Other industries utilize child labour in the supply chain or pay parents of children less than a living wage, perpetuating cycles of poverty and the risks that accompany impoverishment. And employers’ policies for employees can be either family friendly or unfriendly, impacting children’s health, access to quality of childcare, maternity and paternity leave, family leave for child-focused reasons, flexible scheduling, which are critical for flourishing children and families.
In short, workers are children and workers have families. All sectors of business and all employers have a responsibility for decisions, policies, and practices affecting children who are fully human and whose ‘angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven (Matt 18:10).
Let’s explore some these issues in more depth.
Child labour and youth unemployment
One in ten children are victims of child labor globally with children as young as 5 years of age engaging in work. Agriculture is the most prevalent sector for child labor and also one of the most dangerous. Conflict and disaster intensify children’s risk of being exploited for labor and 1/3 of the exploited no longer are able to attend school.
The International Labour Organization states in the World Report on Child Labour (2015) ‘Some 168 million children remain trapped in child labour while at the same time there are 75 million young persons aged 15 to 24 years of age who are unemployed and many more who must settle for jobs that fail to offer a fair income, security in the workplace, social protection or other basic decent work attributes’ (xv). Involvement with child labour leads to lower educational attainment, poorer job outcomes, and a lifetime struggle with unemployment, underemployment, and work that fails to meet a basic standard of living.
Even if we have no direct connection to child labour, most all of us make purchases that are based on a supply chain that relies on child labour. Some of us may work for businesses that utilize child labour somewhere in the supply chain, even if we are unaware of such practices. Products that we may use daily, such as chocolate and clothing, continue to be high-risk for exploitation of child labourers.
Parents and the workplace
Parents around the world work to support their families. In the richest and poorest nations, women participate in the workforce at or nearly at the same level as men. Some work because they desire to do so and others work because it is an economic necessity; some work in the informal economy. And of course, all parents contribute unpaid labour with domestic and childcare responsibilities, particularly women. A significant minority of families around the world are headed by women and these families are less financially stable than male-headed, while single parent households typically lack more resources than two-parent households. Questions arise, such as, ‘Who provides cares for the children?’, ‘Can families afford quality childcare, healthcare, and necessities of living?’
Unfortunately, children can be negatively impacted by parental work, whether by workaholism, required long work hours, family unfriendly employer policies, low parent wages and unstable employment, childcare expense and quality, etc. Unfortunately, even the wealthiest of countries do not provide employment safeguards that protect vulnerable children. In fact, the United States, ranks last in family policy when compared to other countries of similar economic vitality. Unfortunately, the families who need support the most often work in informal, non-salaried, and other low-paying job sectors that are least likely to follow such policies.
Females bear a double burden of work and family care; and given that the average Christian is a young woman living in the Global South, we may assume that it is our sisters, both adult and young, who are struggling to both provide and nurture without the support that they need. More women are working than ever before, particularly in the world’s riches and poorest countries, and often in the informal sector where no employment policies protect them from exploitation or support them in caring for their families. In addition to paid work, female bear the burden of caregiving for children and elders. This isn’t just adult women. In developing countries, one in three girls do not finish primary education, most often because they spend eight times longer carrying out household chores, including childcare.
Because of this burden, girls are twice as likely to be illiterate as boys (96 million between ages 15-24). And illiterate mothers have children who are far less likely to survive the first 5 years of life and to achieve in school. Across 66 countries covering 2/3 of the world’s people, women take on an extra ten or more weeks per year of unpaid care work in countries where the care load is heavy and most unequal. Across 37 countries covering 20 percent of the world’s people, women provide 75 percent of childcare. And in 53 of the poorer countries, some 35.5 million children under 5 years of age spend at least an hour a week with no adult supervision.
Females pay a wage penalty over their lifetimes. Due to care burdens, they take on less work, more poorly paid work, bear the burden of care at home and for children when ill, and as grandmothers, who care for children so that daughters and daughters-in-law can work. Over their lifetimes, they earn far less, which impacts their ability to sustain themselves in old age. Female-headed households are more likely to be poor. And the poorest persons on earth are women and children, including children in the United States of America, the riches nation in the world.
Clearly, parents, and especially mothers, need the prophetic voice of the global church to advocate for them so that women and children have opportunities to thrive. The disparity of well-being between the rich and the poor, men and women/girls, is an affront to the God who cares for the widow, the orphan, the vulnerable, and the stranger.
Workplace and child empowerment
‘There are more than 1 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 19, and nearly 90 percent are growing up in impoverished areas that fail to support their most basic needs.’ Although children and youth should not be exploited in the workplace, they do need opportunities for obtaining job skills, work experience, and mentorship in safe and developmental workplace settings while still having time for school, homework, rest, and leisure. The transition to adulthood requires investment from the church and the workplace so that children and youth can discern their respective vocations and prepare for their life work in service to God, their communities, their families, and the world.
Vocation isn’t just about working. Discerning one’s call and place in the mission of God requires intergenerational discipleship. Adults in the workplace can create opportunities for the young to try out various vocations and adults in the Church can walk alongside the young to help them discover their talents and passions. The young need interested adults to name and confirm their gifts and developmental mentorship in order to live out their callings in Christ.
Questions for reflection and action
Clearly, children are vulnerable partners with all Christians on mission with God. And the global church has opportunity to engage in mission ‘to, for, and with’ all children, particularly those at-risk.
Let’s think about ways in which Christians can consider the well-being of children when discussing the workplace:
- What were important moments in your childhood that helped you understand your larger vocation and how that vocation connects with your paid employment?
- What are opportunities for vocational discovery that you think might be important to protect in the lives of children around you? Where do you see children and youth offered opportunities to learn job skills, to have mentors, and other means of exploring vocation in age-appropriate ways?
- In what ways does your work impact the lives of children (including any children you directly care for, or any other)? Consider both positive and negative impact.
- What are your work habits? How are your habits supporting or undermining healthy work habits for children? As a parent, how do your work habits impact your relationship and time spent with your children?
- What policies and practices exist in your nation/community/workplace that are family friendly? Are there services that local churches or other Christian mission organizations could provide that might address any gaps that you see?
- What kinds of engagement with the workplace are most appropriate for children and youth in your community? How well do you think that corresponds with children’s vocations in the domains of work, play, learning, and love?
- How might your lifestyle and/or vocation support the exploitation of child labourers, even if unintentionally? How could you address such concerns?
- Do you know people whose vocation calls them to work directly with children and as child advocates? How might you better listen to, support, and act upon their input?
- Children are a heritage from God (Ps 127:3), but what inheritance do we leave for them? In what ways do we allow children’s lives to be dominated by abuse and trauma? What values do they inherit and learn from us—about vocation, wealth and poverty, sexual ethics, caring for neighbors and for creation?
- What kind of home will we leave to the young—a world crippled by ecological exploitation, pollution and climate change? How might we support stewardship of creation and make decisions that consider the well-being of children and their futures?
- How might children and youth be supported as co-labourers on mission within your area of influence? As a church member, church leader, parent, grandparent, what can we do to help children to be active, engaged disciples of Jesus for a lifetime?
- Content of paper adapted from the Quito Call to Action for Children-at-Risk, https://lausanne.wpengine.com/content/statement/quito-call-to-action-on-children-at-risk. ↑
- Citation from the Global Workplace Forum purpose statement, https://lausanne.wpengine.com/gatherings/lausanne-global-workplace-forum. ↑
- We have no desire to engage in divisive political rhetoric, yet we join with many international agencies—both secular and Christian—in identifying the importance of maternal health care in the wellbeing of children, and know that many children face great risks before they ever take their first breath. ↑
- https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2018/10/17/nearly-half-the-world-lives-on-less-than-550-a-day. ↑
- https://inequality.org/facts/global-inequality/. ↑
- https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-slavery-victims-children/nearly-one-in-10-children-globally-is-a-victim-of-forced-labor-says-u-n-study-idUSKCN1BU0D8. ↑
- https://www.ilo.org/ipec/Informationresources/WCMS_358969/lang–en/index.htm ↑
- To learn more about child labour and youth unemployment, check out the following sites:
- World Report on Child Labour https://www.ilo.org/ipec/Informationresources/WCMS_358969/lang–en/index.htm; Child Labour in the Modern Supply Chain https://www.dnb.com/resources/child-labour-modern-supply-chain.html; How Many Slaves Work for You? http://slaveryfootprint.org/ ↑
- For support of these statements, see https://ourworldindata.org/female-labour-force-participation-key-facts ↑
- http://www.globalissues.org/news/2016/10/15/22568 ↑
- https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/06/23/global-view-how-u-s-policies-to-help-working-families-rank-in-the-world/?utm_term=.77259898166c ↑
- https://woo.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/10333.pdf. Woment’s work: Mothers, children and the global childcare crisis, March 2016, Overseas Development Institute. ↑
- https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/sdg-report; https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2016/10/03/nearly-385-million-children-living-extreme-poverty-joint-world-bank-group-unicef-study; https://www.childrensdefense.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Child-Poverty-in-America-2017-National-Fact-Sheet.pdf. ↑
- https://www.children.org/FileRoot/1/Docs/YouthReportCard-2012.pdf ↑
- https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/youth-employment ↑