Mothers Really Want
By Lucinda Marshall
12 May, 2006
great thing about Mother’s Day is that for one day, everyone has
to at least pretend to listen respectfully to what mothers have to say.
So come on Moms, let’s not pass up 24 hours of precious soapbox
time, we can talk about what we always talk about. Children.
Earlier this week, upon hearing
of the death of the son of a close friend, I was reminded of what every
parent knows, that there simply could be no greater pain than the loss
of one’s child. Yet the anguish that we can all easily understand
on a personal level does not translate to the global arena where according
to a recent UNICEF report, 5.6 million children die every year due in
large part to malnutrition. One out of every four children in the world
is underweight and in Southeast Asia the rate is an horrific 46%.
Even here in the United States,
shocking numbers of children suffer. 18.4% of American children live
in poverty and 11.6% do not have health insurance. Almost 10% of American
children do not finish high school and more than 130,000 are incarcerated.
Sadly, we are willing to spend a whopping $22,650 per year to imprison
a child but only $7,376 to educate a child in public school.
The U.S. ranks first in the
world in Gross National Product and military spending but 18th in child
poverty and 25th in infant mortality. Among Blacks in the U.S. the infant
mortality rate is barfely better than rates found in developing countries.
As the Children’s Defense Fund points out, President Bush’s
tax cuts would be more than enough to end child poverty in the U.S.
and one month’s military budget would allow every American child
to have health care coverage.
For children who experience
the upheaval of natural disasters or war, the situation is particularly
dire. In Iraq, Palestine and Sudan, children suffer much higher rates
of malnutrition and wasting as a direct result of inadequate food supplies
and contaminated water. In Palestine, USAID reports that the malnutrition
rate among children in 2002 was as high as 50%. In Iraq where one out
of three children is underweight, authorities found that 400,000 children
suffered from wasting in 2004. In both countries, poverty due to high
unemployment as a direct result of conflict makes it impossible for
families to afford adequate food. In addition, obtaining healthcare
basics such as childhood vaccinations or being able to go to school
becomes all but impossible.
Violence and lack of funding
frequently make it difficult for aid workers to assist those most in
need. The World Food Program recently announced that it will halve food
rations for refugees in Darfur due to lack of funds. And here in the
U.S., the Children’s Defense Fund has documented the difficulties
being faced by children in the gulf region whose lives have been disrupted
by hurricanes and a report by Columbia University’s Mailman School
of Public Health found that half of the children living in FEMA shelters
who had access to health care no longer do. The report also found that
many have mental health problems that are not being addressed and nearly
one in four children in FEMA shelters are either not enrolled in school
or miss more than 10 days of school per month.
When you see the grief of
a parent who has lost a child, it is simply impossible to understand
how it is that we knowingly tolerate the systemic imperilment of the
lives of millions of children every day. What really is the point in
fighting a ‘war on terror’ if we do not have the funds to
protect and nurture our children.
The flowers and the candy
are nice, but the reality is we cannot allow a hallmarked distraction
to keep us from focusing on what mother’s really care about. Children.
Lucinda Marshall is the mother
of two terrific sons and the daughter of a wonderful mother. In her
spare time, she is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the
Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.