Thursday, May 08, 2003

Where do the Children Play?

At first I wasn’t sure why this article in today’s Washington Post struck me the wrong way as I drank my coffee this morning:
Labor Department Announces Initiative on Child Soldiers

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced a $13 million initiative to help eliminate the use of children as soldiers in more than 30 countries and to help those who were enslaved.

The forced recruitment and use of children as combatants is one of the worst forms of child labor, Chao said, opening a two-day conference on the issue. "It is a moral outrage and must be stopped."

The initiative includes a $7 million global project by the International Labor Organization to help former child soldiers in Burundi, Congo, the Congo Republic, Rwanda, Uganda, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Colombia.

An additional $3 million will be spent on education for such children in Uganda. Also, $3 million will go to help child soldiers in Afghanistan through UNICEF. There is a Web site on the initiative, at
Then my early morning brain kicked into action: What about all the child soldiers in this country?

No, we may not have armies fighting a civil war on our soil, heartlessly recruiting innocent children to be used as so much cannon fodder, and leaving the survivors to look forward to damaged and violent lives.

What we have is states cutting aid for child care, unable to fund head start (here and here) and the number of black children living in extreme poverty is at its highest level in 23 years. And every week I read articles about children killing children in this country, and praying that my children won't end up in the line of fire. Is it possible there’s a connection?

Now I’m certainly no foreign aid basher. The U.S. spends shockingly little money on foreign aid each year compared to other western countries. And I am as depressed as the next person when I read articles about child soldiers. The point is, we have enough money to tackle the problem of combatant children in this country, as well as abroad – if we put our money into addressing real problems, rather than tax cuts for the wealthy and wars against phantom weapons of mass destruction.

When I was on vacation last year, I got into a lively discussion with a Republican vacationer who was bashing affirmative action. “If you want to help disadvantaged minorities, the time to start is not when they go to college or apply for a job, but when they are children.” “OK, fair point,” I responded. “But did you ever notice that the people who bash affirmative action are the same people saying we can’t afford any more money for head start or health care?”

Think about it. Get back to me (Click that “comments” or “no comments” button down below.)