Children did not ask to be born, did not choose their parents, state, zip code, race, or income level. I share the belief of all great faiths that every child is sacred. I believe in America’s promise, yet to be fulfilled, that every child and person has a right to a fair and level playing field on which to survive and thrive. That millions of our children lack the most basic protections of health care, nutrition, housing, safety, early childhood development supports, education which prepares them for college or career and productive work, and stable family support, threatens our national, economic and military security now and in the future.
While our nation is in a dither about an impending fiscal cliff created by political grandstanding and gridlock which threatens economic recovery, it needs to turn with equal urgency to another threatening deficit our human capital deficit that is eroding the foundation of our nation’s house today and tomorrow. The greatest threat to our national security comes from no enemy without but from our indefensible and foolish neglect of our children today. Each day in America:
5 children are killed by abuse or neglect.
5 children or teens commit suicide.
80 babies die before their first birthdays.
949 babies are born at low birthweight.
1,204 babies are born to teen mothers.
1,240 public school students are corporally punished.
2,058 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.
2,163 babies are born without health insurance.
2,573 babies are born into poverty.
18,493 public school students are suspended.
These facts of child neglect will be the seeds of our nation’s undoing if we do not act with urgency and exercise common, fiscal and moral sense in our budget and investment choices. If the foundation of your national house is crumbling, you don’t say you can’t afford to repair it. So as we give thanks this week for all the blessings we have, let’s also commit to pray and stand for children who need our voice.
We pray and stand for children blessed by parents who care and for children without a parent or anyone who cares at all.
We pray and stand for children filled with joy and hope and for children whose days and nights are joyless.
We pray and stand for children with hope and for children without hope whose spirits have been dimmed and dashed.
We pray and stand for children high on play and study and laughter and for children high on pot, glue, cocaine, and ecstasy.
We pray and stand for our children for whom we pray every day and for children who have no one to pray them along life’s way.
We pray and stand for children poised by circumstance to soar and conquer life’s challenges and for children bogged down by hunger and homelessness and violence and miseducation and trying so hard to survive.
We pray and stand for children who love to read and for children who can’t read at all, for children who learn with excitement and for children told by adults they cannot achieve. We pray and stand for children who we expect and help to do well and for children whom no one believes in or helps succeed.
In this time of Thanksgiving, we pray as parents, grandparents, teachers, preachers, political and community leaders that we will be a help and not a hindrance to children we call our own and to all the children God created who are part of our family too.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to staging.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.