Child Poverty

Is there a larger hypocritical conceit than the concern for children’s well-being express by corporate and governmental power brokers compared to the neglect and harm inflicted on the little ones? Just for starters, Four Billion Dollars a day is spent in the world on armaments while about 40,000 children die each day from preventable causes.

Recently a statement on Children and Poverty by the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church came to my attention. Its opening words ring with unspeakable daily tragedies: “Malnutrition kills an estimated thirty-five thousand children every day. Approximately ten million children die of poverty related causes each year. During the last decade alone, wars have slaughtered two million and disabled between four and five million children. More than five million have been forced into refugee camps and at least twelve million have been left without homes. More children than soldiers now die from war. Some eighty million children between the ages of ten and fourteen work for low wages in often dangerous conditions to supply inexpensive products for citizens of more affluent nations.”

On October 6, 1998, the president of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn, chided his fellow financiers to pay attention to how the people are suffering: “Today,” he said, “while we talk of financial crisis — across the world, 1.3 billion people live on less than $1 a day; 3 billion live on under $2 a day; 1.3 billion have no access to clean water; 3 billion have no access to sanitation; 2 billion have no access to power. We talk of financial crisis while in Jakarta, in Moscow, in Sub Saharan Africa, in the slums of India and the barrios of Latin America, the human pain of poverty is all around us. We must address this human pain.”

One might add other outrages of neglect. One million children in Africa die from malaria every year. That is equivalent to about seven Boeing 747 crashes each day!

All this is occurring as global capitalism sweeps across the Planet, towering and dominant over markets and governments. But, ah, the imperfections. The giant drug companies do not invest in Tuberculosis and Malaria vaccine research because they say, its not profitable.

In the meantime, six million humans, many of them children, lose their lives from these two venerable scourges each year. Drug companies prefer to develop drugs to curb baldness, overeating and declining sexual potency for customers who can pay lots of money.

Perhaps we can start getting a handle on this worldwide disgrace — this massive child abuse — by heeding the thousand lectures that that renaissance man, Buckminster Fuller, delivered in many countries during the Nineteen Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

Fuller delighted in skewering the fatalism, the resignation and the evaders by showing that with the expenditure which goes for just one month’s armaments each year, there would easily be sufficient resources to eliminate all the world’s raw poverty. How, by taking available knowledge and resources — both medical and economic — and attacking the destruction of hunger, homelessness and sanitation.

The second step is to feel the searing shame that the power brokers have inflicted on the adult population in this world of ours and commit to corrective actions. Children have no power -­no money, no votes, no armies. They only look into our eyes with their innocent anguish and seem to ask why.

And what do we reply in the aggregate? That the generation which brought them into this world has little time to alleviate their pain, little time to overthrow the obstacles and the excuses and the cruelties that block the engines of compassion and productivity for their direct favor.

We live in a period of human history marked by more speeches entitled “Children First” and “Family Values” than ever before, while more children are losing ground than ever before.

A fundamental upheaval in the yardsticks the power brokers use to obscure what national and global economies are doing to children is needed. We need to tell Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, to start testifying in Congress that a U.S. economy that lets 25% of children in our country to grow up in poverty can never be described in optimistic Greenspan language.

Above all, a fresh core of leaders organized from the community to the national level must come to the forefront with an intense determination to shape our society as if children mattered.

Those of you with suggestions for such leaders should send their names to one of the most successful fighters for the children of our country — Law Professor and Director of the Children’s Advocacy Institute, Robert C. Fellmeth at 5998 Alcala Park, San Diego, California, 92110 (tel: 619-260-4806).

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