The end of another terrible year for children around the world

December 31, 2007|By Rachel Patron

Lord, I have only one wish: May 2008 be a better year for the world's children.

The year we are about to leave has been another brutal one for the small and defenseless in our midst.

The suffering of children has been lamented throughout history, causing biblical prophets to issue warnings that God would rain fire and brimstone on whoever harms widows and orphans. Charles Dickens' portrayals of starving, dirty-faced urchins toiling for pennies in London slums prompted governments to enact laws against child labor.

Today, once more, the treatment of children is depraved not only in deeds but also in spirit and attitude. Many societies view unprotected children as excess baggage, marketable commodities or a public menace often resolved by murder, for which the perpetrators are rarely punished.

This month, nations gathered in Bali, Indonesia, to save the earth from global warming. How about saving our children from global freezing of the human heart?

In his book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah of Sierra Leone describes how at age 12, together with other boys, he was kidnapped by rebels in his country's civil war, drugged and armed with an AK-47, then dispatched to kill his countrymen.

In the Middle East, the exploitation of children for nefarious aims has reached a cynicism not encountered since World War II. In the Iran-Iraq war, the Khomeini regime would send waves of boys to run through minefields shouting "God is great!"

A few years ago, The New York Times Magazine carried the story of an imam who was raising boys for jihad. He fed them nourishing food and instructed them in the virtues of the Quran. On an evening before a young protege was about to blow himself up, the imam laid a hand on the boy's shoulder, saying: "Don't forget your prayers, my son."

There's more than a carnival to our south, in Rio de Janeiro. This fabulous city has a large population of homeless boys who sleep on the sidewalks and steal from shopkeepers to buy sniffing glue and food. Over the years, they've become the prey in nocturnal raids by both amateur death squads and the police. Accounts of the murderous prowls in a city famous for its luxury and beautiful women carry a surreal quality.

A child cannot grow up without a caring adult. Of course, for short periods, he may be able to live on his own. But he cannot retain his humaneness without love and hope.

During World War II, I was sheltered by my mother and a saintly Russian lady, a devout Christian. They protected me from hunger, bodily harm and mental cruelty. And in all that turmoil, they taught me to love poetry. That's why I've always considered myself the war's luckiest child.

Back to my New Year's wish. What I wish for is that adults will show more love and pity for children. From this day on, anyone who says "children are our future" must prove that he or she means it. A clarion call should go out from heads of state and religious leaders that the murder of children will produce a harsh and immediate punishment. No matter what evil wars and vendettas adults will enmesh themselves - the lives of children must remain inviolate.

So Happy New Year, and let's make it a good one for the kids.

Rachel Patron is a writer in Boca Raton, Fla. Her e-mail is This originally appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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