|This edited transcript appeared in the March 20, 2000 issue of The New Federalist weekly newspaper.
Where Are Our Children
The major killer of children is war. Eight out of 11 of the countries listed are at war--Sierra Leone, Angola, Afghanistan, Liberia, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique (although now ended), and Guinea-Bissau. Aside from those, the countries of Niger, Mali, and Malawi are simply countries of severe deprivation--where there is simply no development whatsoever.
What else are causes of death? Nearly 20% of those children who die will die of diarrhea. Put simply: they will die because there is no clean water. That is, over 2 million children die in a year because of the simple lack of infrastructure to deliver clean water and sanitation.
Most of the rest die of diseases which have been wiped out elsewhere. Acute respiratory infections will take 19% of those dying this year; perinatal causes will kill another 18%; noncommunicable diseases will take 10%; measles will take 7%; injuries will take 6%; malaria will take 5%; and the rest--or 16%--will die of other causes, notably war.
There are two problems here. First is that children who do not receive medical attention--doctors and medicine--die, whereas children in the industrialized countries, who may get a similar disease, will live, and in fact their lives will never be in danger. So, the first problem is the lack of medical services and medicine. Second, at least half of the children in the underdeveloped world are hungry. This means that because of malnutrition, they do not have the resistance to fight disease. So they quickly die of diseases that children in the industrialized countries can easily withstand.
What are the world's children doing? There are 1.6 million children of school age, and they should all be in school. The assumption is that any child who is able to read, has the potential, although not necessarily the means, to rise to a higher level, to see the world beyond the simple day-to-day existence of himself and his family. Any child who can read has the potential to move forward. I think the case of Frederick Douglass--a slave-child who had absolutely nothing, not even a family, except a determination to read--is proof of this.
The converse is also true: Any child who cannot read is being thrown on the scrap-heap. His humanity is not destroyed, but his potential as a human being is being trashed, his God-given right to develop his potentials to the fullest possible extent are being denied. Nearly 400 million children out of the total school-age population globally--that is, a full 24%--are not in school. More than 250 million of these children work. This is the number of children who are not simply helping out on the farm or the homestead, but are relied upon to bring in income to the family, or income merely for their own survival.
What does their world look like? In India and Nepal, for example, there are approximately 100,000 to 300,000 children who work as bonded laborers making carpets, tying knots with their small hands. Their work not only leaves their hands chafed and sore, but over the course of time, deforms them.
There are 60 to 115 million child laborers in India. At least 15 million work as bonded laborers. This means that they are put into servitude to pay a debt. Usually the debt is incurred by their parents. Children who are sold into debt bondage work very long hours for many years to pay it off. Work in mining and construction is the most hazardous for children, and, according to the International Labor Organization, one-quarter of the children employed in such areas suffer major injuries or death.
According to surveys in countries where such surveys were taken, 50% of all working children are involved in work that is stressful. Sixty percent come home from work completely exhausted. And 80% of all children who work have no day off and no free time. Most girls who work actually work as domestic servants, and often this may be a bonded-labor situation. In this case, they generally work only for their room and board, and often suffer sexual abuse as part of the bargain.
Many children work in the streets as vendors, or go begging for adults. When we think of child labor in this country, we think of the South, or the textile and spinning mills of New England during the Industrial Revolution. By 1912, due to the exposure of the evils of child labor, more than 30 states had passed laws against it. But it has to be said that today, we in America are living off the backs of child labor all over the world--which is represented by the United States' huge trade deficit.
Take the textile and garment industry of today. What does it mean if you can go to a K-Mart and buy a child's T-shirt for $3, as I have done? It probably has a label on it that says something like "Made in the Dominican Republic," or some other underdeveloped country. Now, think about how that is possible. First there is the cotton, then the production of cotton fabric, then the piecework to make the T-shirt, and then shipping. All along the way there is mark-up, and then there is the final retail mark-up by K-Mart itself. How is it possible for that shirt to cost $3?
It turns out that a lot of clothes that supposedly come from various underdeveloped countries, in fact, come from Bangladesh, which has the cheapest outsourcing for the garment industry anywhere in the world. Underdeveloped countries outsource to Bangladesh, and have the clothes for their quota made there, but a label from their own country is put on. It appears as if the garment is made in one country, but it is actually made in Bangladesh. That's where we get $3 T-shirts from.
What does this mean in human terms? The average hourly wage of a unionized garment worker in the U.S.A. in 1970 was $8.71. And today, the same garment worker brings home--in constant dollar figures--somewhat less--$8.07. Now today, in a reversion back to the oppressive labor situation we had in this country at the end of the last century, New York City is covered with illegal sweatshops where illegal immigrant workers make far below the minimum wage. According to the office of New York State Legislator Felix Ortiz, these workers make between $.75 and $2.00 an hour--or an average of $1.37. There is not much point in putting that figure into 1970 dollars. But a child laborer--who does most of the work in the Bangladeshi outsourcing shops--earns only three cents an hour. This is enough to give him, at the end of the day, something to eat, so he can go work again the next day for a little something to eat.
If in fact, all you are working for in a day is enough to put a little food in your stomach so that you can work all day the next day, then we know exactly what that is. That is slavery. This is why people like Lord Hailey of Great Britain, who designed the "Winds of Change" policy toward the colonial countries, said that there was no need for colonial administration as long as there is free trade.
Now, the AFL-CIO rightly argues against globalization on the grounds that it lowers the world's wages, and also is destroying American jobs. And the AFL-CIO has taken up a campaign to have sanctions put on countries that use child labor. But what about the child in Bangladesh? Does John Sweeney propose that this child not eat? In short, it is impossible to address the issue of globalization on a piecemeal basis--we must take responsibility, which means that globalization must be replaced with a new monetary system and a new mission for development of the underdeveloped countries. This is not an economic question per se, not an objective problem of resources in the world, but a subjective political question--a moral question. If we take responsibility, then the solutions are there at hand to move humanity forward, instead of turning one-fourth of the world's children into slaves.
The growing number of AIDS orphans also do not stand a good chance of going to school. By the year 2010, it is estimated that there will be 10 million AIDS orphans in Africa alone. Why is the HIV virus racing through Africa, but not suburban white America? Because we have better sexual practices here? I don't think so. It is coursing through Africa, because the population is physically depleted, with immune systems that are running way overtime. AIDS courses through these areas, leaving millions of orphans in its wake, for the same reason that an African child is 1,000 times more likely to die of measles than a child in white suburban America.
Another group of children who do not stand a good chance of going to school are the 14 million children who live in camps for refugees or the internally displaced. Nearly all children in such camps are without medical services, adequate food, or any educational programs.
The picture shown [not shown here] gives an extreme example of children displaced by war. They were Rwandan Hutu children refugees in Eastern Congo in 1997. These children lived in a camp south of Kisangani and are likely dead by now, not from starvation, but because they and their families were among the people who were systematically slaughtered in the war against Congo--the war to revive King Leopold's Ghost.
War brings about the most extreme suffering to children today. It is estimated now that fully one-third of the casualties of modern wars are children. In the decade of the 1990s, wars killed 10 million children--not injured but killed. In English children's literature, we are told of the story of Peter Pan and Wendy and the Lost Boys. But the real Lost Boys are in Sudan--12,000 of them who trekked through southern Sudan for four years--without adult accompaniment--until they finally arrived in Kenya in 1995. It is likely that many of these boys are now among the fighters in southern Sudan for John Garang's SPLA.
Another group of children who are not going to school are street children. Street children are those who are generally without families or refuge and seek their living on the streets. As a rule, if a child cannot be fed at home, he will be forced to take to the streets. The movie Salaam Bombay is an accurate description of the terrible plight of street children in Bombay, India. These children are really the cast-offs of globalization today. Many of them may be AIDS orphans. For example, in Zambia, the AIDS epidemic has created a population of 200,000 street children out of a population of only 9 million--or more than 2% of the total population. If that were the case in this country, there would be 5 and a half million children living on the streets without their parents or any other family. As described by one foundation working with street children in Calcutta, India: "The problems that street children face on streets of Calcutta are many and varied. Problems such as vulnerability because of lack of security and protection which without these can cause physical, psychological, and social problems for the child. Also they lack the basis for survival such as food, money, shelter, clothes, health care. The children seem to be constantly struggling to make ends meet"--this means they are hungry--"They also suffer from the cold and the rain in winter and of course all sorts of insects and mosquito bites. They run into problems of abuse of all kinds and suffer from low self-esteem and from many illnesses and ailments because of the environment they live in. The introduction of the illicit drug trade in Calcutta has added to their problems." Of course, we have this problem in America, particularly in the inner cities--children who live basically on the street, with many of the same problems as their counterparts overseas. These are the people we have turned our backs on here. There is no figure for the number of street children in the world today.
Another group that is not going to school are the growing numbers of child prostitutes. It is estimated that there are 1 million child prostitutes in Asia alone, and the number is growing in other parts of the world, particularly Africa. In Thailand, for example, in the decimated rural areas of the country, it is customary now for the daughter to go to the city and spend a period of time as a prostitute before marriage. Essentially, this is a function of poverty and also of an increasing and increasingly depraved market for child prostitution, as can be seen in the United States with the rise in "missing children" and in the European sex tours for child prostitutes.
The most criminal aspect of what the world under Gore's globalization has done to the world's children is the rise of the phenomenon of the child soldier. Here we are dealing with the direct criminalization of the child--the total destruction of his soul. There are at least 300,000 child soldiers on active duty today. They are in Sudan, Liberia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Colombia. Child soldiers are ferocious fighters and take orders easily, since they are malleable and extremely psychologically vulnerable. Most child soldiers are orphans. Some join the ranks of the army because they seek protection and some food, and others are forcibly recruited. In the latter case, most of them watch their parents be killed. Thus the child who enters the ranks of insurgents is generally already traumatized and desperate. The child soldier tends to be a ruthless killer, getting an ultimate ego-thrill and high off the power of destroying life.
Here is a description from one child soldier in Sri Lanka, who was with the Tamil Tigers, experts in suicide bombers. The child, Raja, was 15 after being taken out of the LTTE. He had joined the LTTE at age 11 and came to the hospital at the age of 15 suffering from insomnia, aggressive outbursts, and irrational, abnormal behavior. He explained that after one attack, where he lost many friends, he was shown a video of dead women and children and told that his enemies had done this. Soon afterwards he was involved in attacks on several Muslim villages near Batticaloa. When recounting one attack, he said he held a child by the legs and bashed its head against the wall and how he enjoyed hearing the mother's screaming. They deserved to die."
Child soldiers were the major forces in the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone. Charles Taylor's operation in Liberia and his allied Revolutionary United Front distribute cocaine to their fighters. The RUF in Sierra Leone had a practice of mutilating their victims. "I cut off 40," an RUF told Agence France Presse, without remorse. He said he cut hands, captured, and killed countless civilians in a town. "There were so many, so many," he said. He said the fighters were often high on cocaine, with doses varying according to the "intensity of the operation." "The children, the women, they are all responsible, We cut them and attacked them so they will not be involved in politics."
What is this monster? The RUF had killed his mother, brothers, and sisters. "They killed them. They said I must go to the war front. So I did."
Now come back to the United States--to the same kind of affluent suburban high school that I talked about in the beginning--to a place like Columbine High School in Colorado. Here in the United States, we are witnessing the equivalent of the soul-destroyed child-soldier of Africa or Sri Lanka or Colombia. This time, the child-killer is not being produced through a process of extreme deprivation and traumatization. Rather, our culture now produces the equivalent of child-soldiers through the mass media. Since the cultural shift of the 1960s, when we turned our backs on the children of the world, why should we not be surprised to find that a generation down the road, our own children are killing each other? The question of "Why should we care about the rest of the world?" has now become "Why shouldn't we kill our own classmates?" What values are left? Why should we be surprised if the selfishness and cynicism of 25 years ago has become violent nihilism lacing through our culture, a violent nihilism aimed at the next door neighbor. Neither the radical environmentalism of Al Gore nor the neo-conservatism of the Republican Party offers a pathway out of the profound moral crisis our society faces, because both of them are based on the same cynicism about the nature of man, the same selfishness that has brought us to this point.
We must face the fact that when we turned our backs on the world and decided that we could no longer do anything about it, we set ourselves on the path to our own self-destruction. Since we have agreed to go along with the powers-that-be and scrap the mission of the United States, we would in fact, rather remain clueless about what is going on out there. The fear is so great, that even good people in the United States today are terrified of facing the suffering that goes on among millions of people every day--suffering beyond anything we could possibly imagine. They shield themselves from such suffering by saying that these other people don't really feel things the way we do. But this is simply not the case.
Only by taking responsibility for all the world's children, can we save our own. We have the policies on hand, we have the means, to change the world so that every child has the opportunity to develop himself fully as a human being. We need the political will--courage and determination based on love of humanity--to make that a reality and to regain our self-confidence as human beings. We must rebuild our nation's sense of morality by rebuilding its sense of responsibility for the world--not as the world's strongest military power and supercop, but as the world's beacon of hope and temple of liberty--as the place where the idea that man is made in the image of God is realized in practice.
And in this revival of the true mission of the United States, we must mobilize our own youth. We have to face them, in all humility, over our own terrible mistakes. We have to tell our youth that you have been left holding the bag--it is your generation's mission on Earth to rebuild the world out of the rubble heap left by the Twentieth Century. It is your generation that can create a world in which every child has the opportunities we have here--that no child is trashed, tossed out on the scrap-heap as if they were garbage, but treated like the precious gift to humanity they are. That is what we must do. And if we have that commitment and we are determined to take that responsibility for the world, then this country will have a future again.