Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”  This quote by German Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died opposing Hitler’s Holocaust, is prominently highlighted in a Children’s Defense Fund report (CDF) report. With the unfolding of events since the election, this quote is a reminder to pause and think about children in this society.

A convergence of events and words from three people compelled me to express my concerns about the plight of so many children today in our country and children around the world. 

  • Hillary Clinton speaking at the Children’s Defense Fund reminded us that “our children are worth it.”  
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, at the end of the National Theatre film production of Hamlet, implored us to consider the plight of Syrian refugees.
  • Olivia Kate Cerrone, a university colleague and author of The Hunger Saint, pointed out in a recent article that children today are enslaved for pennies a day sewing the clothes we wear that are made in foreign nations.

Reason vs internment camp talk: If we look at reports from the American Psychological Association (APA) and the CDF, it appears that we are failing our children in America.  And when we hear Carl Higbie, a president-elect supporter, tell us about Japanese-American internment camps to justify registering Muslim immigrants, we must shudder at what such thinking and behavior will do to children. (1)  

He somehow tried walking back on the comment, but as Maya Angelou has said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

November 20 is United Nations Universal Children’s Day.  It was established “to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children's welfare.” Are we taking this seriously enough? (2)

Look at what is happening in the US alone. The APA has pointed out poverty rates in terms of racial and ethnic disparities. For black children, 38.2 percent; for Hispanic children, 32.3 percent; for non-Hispanic White children, 17 percent; and for Asian children, 3 percent. They noted that the National Center for Children in Poverty reports that 17.2 million children living in the US have a foreign-born parent, and 4.2 million children of immigrant parents are poor. (3)  

According to the CDF statistics from 2003, “One child or teen dies from a gun every 3 hours and 28 minutes. Every 35 seconds a child dies of abuse and neglect. (4) This is shameful.

Mental and physical health: In terms of mental and physical health we are told by the APA:

“Poverty is linked with negative conditions such as substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, inadequate child care, lack of access to health care, unsafe neighborhoods, and under-resourced schools, poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays." (3)

Yet, I am hopeful and here is why.

Hillary Clinton pointed out in her CDF speech the need for bipartisanship, advocacy, volunteerism and investing in the children of the United States — no matter their race, religion or immigration status. She was at the CDF being honored for her lifetime of service.  "America is worth it. Our children are worth it," she said. "Believe in our country, fight for our values and never, ever give up." (5)

Benedict Cumberbatch, who pleaded directly with the audience at the end of the film Hamlet, pointed to a link www.savethechildren.org.uk/ at the bottom of the screen. He has been critical of his country for being willing to accept just “20,000 refugees over five years.”  And as I saw at the theater last evening, he quoted a line from “a poem called Home by Somali poet Warsan Shire:

“No one puts children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” (6)

Olivia Kate Cerrone reveals a sad, historical look at children's exploitation in "the old country." As she explained to me and some of our other colleagues, “I wrote this piece on 'Lessons from History' for Huffington Post to help foster a greater awareness over the ongoing global issue of child labor abuse and its unfortunate historical context, highlighting the story of the carusi, the child miners of Sicily, as an example.”

Her well-documented work, The Hunger Saint, scheduled to be published in March 2017 from Bordighera Press, may keep us awake at night.  And if so, it is a call to make the well-being of children a national and international priority.  

Today as we look at plans for immigrants being bandied about by the incoming regime, let us remember that millions of us came from immigrant families. Reviewing figures from the Children’s Defense Fund and the American Psychological Association, we must take pause. Children in our own country are suffering physically and emotionally. Perhaps if we opened our hearts to others, a universal consciousness of caring will envelope us and help us realize that embracing all children and families from all ethnic backgrounds is our ethical and moral responsibility. 

Copyright 2016 Rita Watson

Resource Links:

  1. http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-supporter-internment-cam...
  2. http://www.un.org/en/events/childrenday/
  3. http://www.apa.org/pi/families/poverty.aspx
  4. http://www.childrensdefense.org/library/data/stand_up_for_children_now.pdf
  5. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/never-ever-give-hillary-clinton-make...
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/30/benedict-cumberbatch-stu...

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