Investment in Children Is Sign of Evolutionary Insight

Article excerpt

Without knowing precisely what would result from lobbying efforts by fellow Catholic leaders on Capitol Hill last week, one remarked: "It can only be better for children."

The realization that our nation's - and world's - children fell further into neglect in the 1980s has, in the 1990s, spawned new attention toward their needs, locally and overseas. U.S. Catholics are very much involved in these new efforts. Last week, their eyes on the plights of the needy, they went to Washington, D.C., from dioceses throughout the nation to plan strategies and lobby (stories, page 3).

Several hundred church social-action directors and Catholic charity leaders were involved, part of a U.S. bishops' campaign of "putting children and families first."

The need is overwhelming. In Washington last week, statistics were as abundant as they were appalling. For example, one heard that in the past 12 years the fortune of U.S. children had declined and that more than 13 million of 63 million children (almost 21 percent) live in poverty.

With regard to infant mortality, the United States now ranks 26th among all nations - behind Spain and Singapore. The United States ranks 19th among industrialized nations in keeping its babies alive; each day in America, 110 babies die before their first birthdays.

It was said this decline in the fortunes of our children has no parallel in Canada, where the child-poverty rate is less than 10 percent, or in northern Europe, where the rate is less than 5 percent.

Some mentioned an article by Mary Graham in the March 1993 Atlantic, which states that for the first time in recent U.S. history, fewer than two-thirds of all children younger than 5 have been fully vaccinated. That is a sharp drop from traditional levels.

One of the reasons cited is the skyrocketing price of vaccines. In 1977, the price of all recommended children's vaccines was $11; in 1992 the price had soared to $230. That includes the fee for the health professional who administers the vaccine.

The Clinton White House states that it is committed to children. It has recommended full funding of Head Start at $9 billion a year and a substantial increase in appropriations for the Women, Infants and Children's Program. This, we need to remember, represents investment in the future and should not be dismissed as "further deficit spending."

One study has shown that for every dollar put into Head Start, five are returned down the line as money that does not have to be spent on education and health care.

Whether the result of some collective guilt of conscience or by some wonderful evolutionary insight, our world organizations, at least in word - and maybe that's the needed first step - have staked claim to the cause of neglected children.

In 1992, for example, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child convened its first meeting. The task of the 10-person international entity has been to monitor the implementation of the U.N. Covenant on the Rights of the Child - a treaty now ratified by more than 100 nations - but, alas, not the United States.

Last year, 58 nations submitted to the U.N. committee first reports on the economic and educational status of the children in their countries. The mandate of the committee on children's rights is immense. But its reports, hopefully, may soon receive a good deal of attention around the world.

The picture that confronts the committee is grim. At least 50 million children will die needlessly before the year 2000. In addition, 30 million children live in the streets of poor cities. Fifty million work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. More than 100 million have no grade school to attend.

School enrollment, furthermore, declined in the 1980s because of the financial obligations of poor nations resulting from the massive loans they received from lending entities in the United States and Europe. …