I was with some colleagues today discussing the plight of the children of the world. Sometimes, I think that if I just keep talking, something will come of it. I'm optimistic and hopeful even though the statistics are ugly, alarming and outrageous.
Tony Lake, head of UNICEF, wrote a beautiful piece for Lancet in 2011 in which he referred to the loss of developmental potential for children in the modern world as an "outrage." The research and scholarship on this subject is outstanding as researchers continue to reveal the complex issues of early childhood development in poor children all over the world. When you factor in the long term effects of malnutrition, lack of pre-natal care and stimulation, abuse, neglect, gender inequity, early marriage, child trafficking, child labor, child conscription and institutionalization, it is a fair estimate that half the world's children are living a marginalized life.
Please don't click or swipe me away right now... this is not the time for denial. It won't be the environmental crisis or war that will kill us all. The insidious and outrageous destruction of the potential of childhood will be the death of us.
How did we end up with this horror? War, conflict, disasters, infectious diseases... yes of course, but the deeper answer is poverty, coupled with overpopulation. I am a child of the 1960s and ZPG (zero population growth) was a new concept then. I knew this was a great idea, so I pledged to limit my contribution to the planet's population to two children.
As it turned out, my contribution was greater -- I added no additional children to the planet's growth. Instead, I adopted two wonderful boys; one from Ethiopia and one from Vietnam. They are both lovely, polite and sweet boys who care about the world. They have a decent life, but they are part of a dwindling number of children being adopted from abroad.
And when the question is how do we care for 153 million orphans, the solution is not adoption. Rather, it's about about strategic and thoughtful work to build communities and provide access to medical care and education for children from the moment they are born... to support women so that they can be educated and grow the economic strength of their communities.
It's about preventing poverty and providing hope. There are many models of community-based care and creative tools to help children and families grow and be successful but investment in social work infrastructure and community worker training programs are essential to any model. Midwives, vaccinators, community workers and case managers are the wave of the future.
I'm going to leave you with a story that I hope will explain my passion and optimism. I picked up my son from Hebrew School tonight and as I sat in the car waiting for him, I was reading about concussions in kids playing contact sports and listening to Katy Perry's new song (always multitasking).
Gradually, I realize that I've turned up the volume on the car radio, now I'm dancing in my car seat... a teenager at 60. My son gets in the back seat, and he too starts to dance in his seat. We're driving slowly so that we can play some of our favorite songs... we dance and enjoy the lovely night. I look at him in the mirror and I start to cry. I think about how all teens around the world should be dancing in their seats to Katy Perry and Lady Gaga... all children should be enjoying the rites of passage of their time... remembering friendships and school experiences and sharing silly jokes.
There are girls in the world today who are married at 8 years of age. They get pregnant and give birth by the time they are 10 or 11. They live with their children in extreme poverty. They do not tell jokes. They do not chair dance.They live brutal, unjust and undignified lives.
That is the outrage.