The great thing about Mother’s Day is that for one day, everyone has to at least pretend to listen respectfully to what mothers have to say. So come on Moms, let’s not pass up 24 hours of precious soapbox time, we can talk about what we always talk about. Children.
Earlier this week, upon hearing of the death of the son of a close friend, I was reminded of what every parent knows, that there simply could be no greater pain than the loss of one’s child. Yet the anguish that we can all easily understand on a personal level does not translate to the global arena where according to a recent UNICEF report, 5.6 million children die every year due in large part to malnutrition. One out of every four children in the world is underweight and in Southeast Asia the rate is a horrific 46%.
Even here in the United States, shocking numbers of children suffer. 18.4% of American children live in poverty and 11.6% do not have health insurance. Almost 10% of American children do not finish high school and more than 130,000 are incarcerated. Sadly, we are willing to spend a whopping $22,650 per year to imprison a child but only $7,376 to educate a child in public school.
The U.S. ranks first in the world in Gross National Product and military spending but 18th in child poverty and 25th in infant mortality. Among Blacks in the U.S. the infant mortality rate is barely better than rates found in developing countries. As the Children’s Defense Fund points out, President Bush’s tax cuts would be more than enough to end child poverty in the U.S. and one month’s military budget would allow every American child to have health care coverage.
For children who experience the upheaval of natural disasters or war, the situation is particularly dire. In Iraq, Palestine and Sudan, children suffer much higher rates of malnutrition and wasting as a direct result of inadequate food supplies and contaminated water. In Palestine, USAID reports that the malnutrition rate among children in 2002 was as high as 50%. In Iraq where one out of three children is underweight, authorities found that 400,000 children suffered from wasting in 2004. In both countries, poverty due to high unemployment as a direct result of conflict makes it impossible for families to afford adequate food. In addition, obtaining healthcare basics such as childhood vaccinations or being able to go to school becomes all but impossible.
Violence and lack of funding frequently make it difficult for aid workers to assist those most in need. The World Food Program recently announced that it will halve food rations for refugees in Darfur due to lack of funds. And here in the U.S., the Children’s Defense Fund has documented the difficulties being faced by children in the gulf region whose lives have been disrupted by hurricanes and a report by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that half of the children living in FEMA shelters who had access to health care no longer do. The report also found that many have mental health problems that are not being addressed and nearly one in four children in FEMA shelters are either not enrolled in school or miss more than 10 days of school per month.
When you see the grief of a parent who has lost a child, it is simply impossible to understand how it is that we knowingly tolerate the systemic imperilment of the lives of millions of children every day. What really is the point in fighting a “war on terror” if we do not have the funds to protect and nurture our children.
The flowers and the
candy are nice, but the reality is we cannot allow a hallmarked
distraction to keep us from focusing on what mother’s really care about.
Other Articles by Lucinda Marshall
The Harm that
Occurs When Women are Under- and Mis-Represented