01/23/2013 02:12 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

Protecting Our Children: The Most Deadly Risks Are Not Far Away

Last month's tragedy in Connecticut has precipitated profound discussions on a number of topics. Foremost among them: how can we better protect our children? It is a question that I have been asking for more than 30 years, not only on occasions of such calamity and heartbreak, but on a daily basis.

From the moment they enter the world, children are most exposed to the harshest deprivations of their environment -- to the cruelest shortcomings of those charged with their care. Within the developing world, this vulnerability is most acute. Whatever their families need, children need it most. Whatever stress their parents are enduring, children bear the biggest brunt of it. The sad reality is that children's dependency on those closest to them often puts them at the greatest risk.

A few weeks ago, I was pleased to speak at the White House at the launch of a new initiative designed to help provide for the safety and well-being of children around the world. The Action Plan on Children in Adversity (APCA), overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is a bold undertaking and one that ChildFund International is proud to participate in. Working collaboratively with other organizations, this collective effort offers a hopeful prospect for tangible, meaningful results.

Children around the world confront a range of potential danger and violence. The forced recruitment of child soldiers is not isolated to Ugandan guerrilla leaders like Joseph Kony, nor is community-based violence, including the harsh treatment of girls and young women, who often bear the brunt of discrimination and degradation that is deep-rooted in various cultures. The physical and emotional scars from such attacks and physical abuse can remain with these girls well into adulthood. Consider the brutal attack on Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out in support of her right to an education. While this episode has fostered widespread attention, this kind of violence is endemic to many parts of the developing world.

And yet, we do not have to look far to find the part of the world where children are most susceptible to gun violence. The United States holds that unenviable distinction. A study by the Children's Defense Fund finds that, among major industrialized nations around the world, 87 percent of gun deaths in children under the age of 15 took place here at home. In fact, in 2008 and 2009, more American children were killed by guns -- 5,740 -- than U.S. military personnel fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan during that same period.

And if you considered law enforcement to be a dangerous occupation, it turns out that it is not nearly as perilous as being a young child. Almost twice as many preschool-age children (173) died from gun violence in 2008-2009 than police officers killed in the line of duty (89).

ChildFund is mostly associated with the work we do with children and families in far corners of the world. But the truth is, our efforts here at home are no less important. Many American children suffer the vulnerabilities of poverty, and our work seeks to help create healthy, self-sufficient environments where they can grow to their full potential.

While we seek to create safe communities for these children, more must be done on a broader scale to reduce gun violence in this country. The tragedy in Newtown has contributed to the grim statistics of American children who have lost their lives to guns. Let us hope that it also serves as an inexorable tipping point that finally propels some meaningful action in a healthy direction, whether it be changes in gun laws, enhanced access to mental health services, reduced portrayal of violence in the media or other solutions.

Many, many supporters of ChildFund are rightfully concerned about helping vulnerable children around the world. As we continue to work on their behalf, let's also give our own children the best opportunity to grow up in a country where it is safe to be a child.

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