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April 21, 2015

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Our children, sad future

Now that high school graduation season is winding down, it’s worth taking a moment to remember that in the sea of flowing gowns lurk some unsettling statistical realities. On many measures of childhood well-being, the last decade in the United States has been one of stagnation. We remain an outlier in many ways among developed countries.

This doesn’t mean that the United States hasn’t made progress in recent memory. It has. It’s just that much of that progress came in the 1990s. Since then, our progress has slowed or stalled.

This week, the research group Child Trends released a statistical portrait of the high school class of 2013, compiled by a senior researcher, David Murphey. The numbers were depressing.

The report imagines a hypothetical class of 100 graduates. Of those, it estimates that:

• 71 have experienced physical assault, 28 have been victimized sexually (10 report that they have been the victims of dating violence in the past year, and 10 report they have been raped), 32 have experienced some form of child maltreatment, 27 were in a physical fight and 16 carried a weapon in the past year.

• 64 have had sexual intercourse, 48 are sexually active, 27 used a condom and 12 were on birth control pills the last time they had sex; 21 percent had a sexually transmitted infection in the past year; three or four of the young women have been or are pregnant, and one has had an abortion.

• 39 have been bullied, physically or emotionally — 16 in the past year; 29 felt “sad and hopeless” continually for at least two weeks during the past year; 14 thought seriously about attempting suicide, and six went through with the attempt.

• 34 are overweight, and 22 are living in poverty (10 in deep poverty).

Those statistics are shameful.

We have not sufficiently prioritized some fundamental safety structures for children in this country — fighting child poverty; supporting all families (including single-parent ones) and their children through policies such as paid family leave and early childhood education; insulating children from a culture soaked with violence; and educating children fully about sexuality and pregnancy, and allowing them open access to a full range of safe sex options (which would reduce our extraordinary rate of sexually transmitted disease, prevent more unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions).

Our problems would be fixable if only we could agree that the protection and healthy development of this country’s children is not only a humanitarian and moral imperative, but also an economic and cultural one: Today’s students are tomorrow’s workers.

However, many conservatives seem too selfish to take the altruistic view and too blind to take the self-interested one.

For instance, we are among only three countries that have not ratified the United Nations’ 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which UNICEF calls “the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.” The other two countries are South Sudan, which just became a country in 2011, and Somalia.

During a 2008 youth debate between the presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain were asked whether they would seek to ratify the treaty. Obama responded:

“It’s important that the United States return to its position as a respected global leader and promoter of human rights. It’s embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. I will review this and other treaties, and ensure the United States resumes its global leadership in human rights.”

Embarrassing is an understatement, but efforts to have the United States ratify the treaty have been met with opposition from Republicans because, as Mother Jones reported in 2010, “Under the treaty, ‘parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children,’ the government couldn’t sentence teenagers to life in prison, kids could get sex-ed and birth control if they wanted it, and — gasp! — children would be able to choose their own religion, according to a fact sheet published by”

That year, reported that 31 senators were co-sponsoring legislation to prevent the United States from ratifying the treaty; two other senators signed a letter opposing ratification. All of them were Republicans. Only eight Republican senators did not sign on to this tomfoolery; five of them are now gone from the Senate.

When you prefer the company of Somalia on issues of children’s rights and well-being, you know what your priorities are.

Charles M. Blow writes for The New York Times.

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  1. A sad commentary about where our priorities lie.

    The Gates Foundation spend billions of dollars to eradicate poverty and malaria. It spends this amount of money all over the world, yet it seemed like the world is still mired in its own muck.

    The foundation spends billions of dollars on education: The adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the evaluation of teachers, distributing ipads to each student, the production of educational materials that are thrust on teachers for fidelity of implementation. They are palliative measures that do absolutely nothing to help children succeed.

    The poorest population in the US, in fact the world, are children. None of those reforms can help a child who is being abused sexually, emotionally, and physically. None of those reforms can help a child who is cold and hungry. None of those reforms can help a child who is homeless. None of those reforms can help a child who is crying and alone. None of those can make a child want to learn.

    Yes. We cannot eradicate poverty, however what little resources we have should not be wasted on ideas that do not make a dent on children's basic needs. Bandaids do not eradicate metastatic cancer. Radical surgery does.

    Let us begin with the child. Make him whole and the rest will fall into place.

  2. The core problem across the socioeconomic spectrum is mental health. Access to mental health assistance is dismal here in the United States. How a person thinks and feels carries them through life's situations. WHY people make the choices that they do, and how they can avail to better choices. We MUST start with providing sufficient access to mental health services for not only the child, but the parents, family members, community, and world as a whole. This will mitigate bad choices and much suffering due to faulty decision-making and resulting behaviors.

    Although access to mental health is NOT a cure all for the severe poverty that is induced by the elite in power, who are the 1% that hold the majority of the world's wealth, it does support needy individuals with openness to choice and way to overcome life's obstacles. This comes without divesting parents of their power,nor infringing upon current laws in our states and national (which the UNICEF Treaty would do).

    So just maybe the United States has a better way to turn the tables on poverty, despair, and violence, if we want to lead the way, and that is access to mental health!

    Blessings and Peace,