May 13, 2002
Every single day, 5,500 of the world’s children die from diseases coming from polluted air, unclean water and tainted food. This is only one tiny corner of the horrifying picture painted in a report the U.N. issued for its Special Session on Children.
Figures like this should come as no surprise, since one billion people in the world have no access to clean drinking water. Almost half the world’s population – 2.4 billion people – do not have even a simple latrine, not to speak about indoor plumbing.
All told, 11 million children under the age of five died in the year 2000; 150 million suffered from malnutrition.
120 million children of primary age were not in school – many of them because they were working. Two-fifths of the world’s children age 10 to 14 were working, many under slave labor conditions. Even the youngest children were put out to work just to help their families survive: over one-fifth of all the world’s children aged five to nine were working.
The well-fed delegates to the U.N. met in session to hear this report and then wrangle among themselves about what, if anything, could be done about the situation.
And the chief wranglers were delegates sent by the U.S., who didn’t even pretend they were interested in discussing the real problems that such figures represent. Instead, the U.S. delegation continued, for the three days of the U.N. special session, to raise, and raise again, and raise again the issue of abortion. Under Bush’s instructions, they insisted that there should be a prohibition preventing any country from offering women the option of abortion in any health services funded by the U.N., and they wanted to talk about prohibiting pornography. On these two issues, U.S. delegates were joined by only a few other delegations: one from the Catholic Church, whose priests have been giving us all such a lesson in moral concern for the well-being of children; and several delegations from the most reactionary Islamic countries, whose opposition to any rights for women are well known.
It’s obvious that Bush is doing what U.S. presidents before him have done: playing on the abortion issue to line up an extreme-right electorate behind him for the next election. In this, he shows himself for the cynical human specimen he is: confronted by a desperate situation facing the majority of the world’s children, Bush is thinking about making a little political hay. Shame!
Certainly, the U.N. – where talk is cheap but action rare – has never been a model of concern for the rights of children, even if it issues regular reports. But even in this forum, U.S. actions stood out as abhorrent.
Children are dying from diseases which are preventable, dying from malnutrition in a world overstocked with food, forced to work instead of gaining any education. But the tactics of the U.S. delegation openly served to block even discussion about such problems.
Whatever electoral reasons pushed Bush in this direction, there were other more basic reasons for this despicable behavior. The terrible conditions faced by the majority of the world’s children are a direct result of the exploitation of the planet’s wealth by a few wealthy countries, with the U.S. in the lead. A few dozen big U.S. corporations drain wealth from vast areas of Latin America, Asia and Africa. They employ child labor in textile plants, enabling them to shut down almost all of their operations in this country. They do not establish sanitary conditions in their plants or their plantations. They crowd people into ever bigger cities to work in their factories, at the same time, they pay no taxes, depriving the cities of the funds to put a sanitary infrastructure into these cities.
To really address the situation facing the world’s children means to address the hold that these monster corporations have on the world, a hold which is reinforced by the U.S. military and by military dictatorships, which could not last a day without the vast sums of money, weapons and military aid they get from the U.S. government.
If the problems facing the world’s children are to be addressed, that will happen only through the activity of the laboring population itself – in the countries most directly affected, but in this country also. The capitalists – who take our jobs, cut our wages and reduce public services here – are the same ones who are killing the world’s children.