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Investment in children is sign of evolutionary insight.

Without knowing precisely what would result from lobbying efforts by fellow Catholic leaders on Capitol Hill last week, one remarked: "It can only be better for children."

The realization that our nation's - and world's - children fell further into neglect in the 1980s has, in the 1990s, spawned new attention toward their needs, locally and overseas. U.S. Catholics are very much involved in these new efforts. Last week, their eyes on the plights of the needy, they went to Washington, D.C., from dioceses throughout the nation to plan strategies and lobby (stories, page 3).

Several hundred church social-action directors and Catholic charity leaders were involved, part of a U.S. bishops' campaign of "putting children and families first."

The need is overwhelming. In Washington last week, statistics were as abundant as they were appalling. For example, one heard that in the past 12 years the fortune of U.S. children had declined and that more than 13 million of 63 million children (almost 21 percent) live in poverty.

With regard to infant mortality, the United States now ranks 26th among all nations - behind Spain and Singapore. The United States ranks 19th among industrialized nations in keeping its babies alive; each day in America, 110 babies die before their first birthdays.

It was said this decline in the fortunes of our children has no parallel in Canada, where the child-poverty rate is less than 10 percent, or in northern Europe, where the rate is less than 5 percent.

Some mentioned an article by Mary Graham in the March 1993 Atlantic, which states that for the first time in recent U.S. history, fewer than two-thirds of all children younger than 5 have been fully vaccinated. That is a sharp drop from traditional levels.

One of the reasons cited is the skyrocketing price of vaccines. In 1977, the price of all recommended children's vaccines was $11; in 1992 the price had soared to $230. That includes the fee for the health professional who administers the vaccine.

The Clinton White House states that it is committed to children. It has recommended full funding of Head Start at $9 billion a year and a substantial increase in appropriations for the Women, Infants and Children's Program. This, we need to remember, represents investment in the future and should not be dismissed as "further deficit spending."

One study has shown that for every dollar put into Head Start, five are returned down the line as money that does not have to be spent on education and health care.

Whether the result of some collective guilt of conscience or by some wonderful evolutionary insight, our world organizations, at least in word - and maybe that's the needed first step - have staked claim to the cause of neglected children.

In 1992, for example, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child convened its first meeting. The task of the 10-person international entity has been to monitor the implementation of the U.N. Covenant on the Rights of the Child - a treaty now ratified by more than 100 nations - but, alas, not the United States.

Last year, 58 nations submitted to the U.N. committee first reports on the economic and educational status of the children in their countries. The mandate of the committee on children's rights is immense. But its reports, hopefully, may soon receive a good deal of attention around the world.

The picture that confronts the committee is grim. At least 50 million children will die needlessly before the year 2000. In addition, 30 million children live in the streets of poor cities. Fifty million work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. More than 100 million have no grade school to attend.

School enrollment, furthermore, declined in the 1980s because of the financial obligations of poor nations resulting from the massive loans they received from lending entities in the United States and Europe.

One has to think of all of this as a sort of unintentional infanticide.

It has been, therefore, heartening to see that the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has been greeted with an enthusiasm not extended to any previous development effort in human rights at the United Nations. The committee, pursuant to its charter, is collaborating with UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization.

The absence, meanwhile, of the United States from all of this can only be described as an agony of embarrassment. The Clinton administration has pledged to urge the U.S. Senate to ratify the U.N. Covenant on the Rights of the Child as soon as feasible; that would make it possible for at least one U.S. delegate to be on the children's rights committee.

Time is long overdue. The U.S. needs to ratify this treaty and end this embarrassment. (The covenant is silent with respect to abortion, so that will not be an issue.)

Steps are being taken on behalf of children. But the United States and the family of nations have a long, long way to go before it can be said that the children of the world have all those rights that now belong to them by reason of simple compassion or by international law.

Gratitude is owed to the nation's and larger world's children's advocates.

One day in the lives of American children

Every day in America:

8,441 teens become sexually active.

2,756 teens become pregnant.

1,340 babies are born to teen mothers.

2,754 babies are born out of wedlock.

638 babies are born to mothers receiving late or no prenatal care.

742 babies are born at low birthweight (less than 5.5 pounds).

2,685 babies are born into poverty.

107 babies die before their first birthday.

2 children younger than 5 are murdered.

248 children are arrested for violent crimes.

176 children are arrested for drug abuse.

427 children are arrested for alcohol abuse or drunken driving.

10,988 public-school students are suspended each school day.

2,250 students ages 16 to 24 drop out each school day.

Urgent choices America must make to guarantee

every child a head start, a healthy start and a fair start


To guarantee every child a head start: $2.1 billion immediately in FY 1993, as the first step toward providing Head Start to all poor children by 1995. (Total 1995 cost is $6.1 billion above current spending.)

To guarantee every child a healthy start: $3.1 billion immediately in FY 1993, to phase in basic health insurance coverage for every uninsured child and pregnant women. $0.5 billion immediate in FY 1993 to provide childhood vaccines to all children.

To guarantee every child a fair start: $23-$41 billion in FY 1993 as a minimum investment in buttressing family economic security and beginning to lift children out of poverty through a universal, refundable children's tax credit.

Total: $28.6 billion to $46.6 billion total urgent investments toward guaranteeing every child a Heart Start, a Healthy Start and Fair Start.

Savings and Revenue

$2.6 billion in savings from building three fewer B-2 "Stealth" bombers a year. $2.0 billion in savings from building one fewer nuclear attack submarine a year. $2.1+ billion in savings from ending the production of strategic and theater nuclear missiles. $25.5 billion in savings from reducing FY 1993 defense spending to the level of the average year of the Cold War. $11.6 billion in revenue from eliminating the tax break for inherited capital gain. $3.5 billion in revenue from increasing the top rate of the corporate tax by two percentage points (from 34 percent to 36 percent). $13+ billion in revenue from doubling the taxes on tobacco and alcohol.

Total: $60.3 billion total savings and revenue.
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Title Annotation:Catholic political lobbying effort
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 12, 1993
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