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Born to suffer and die?

By Nancy A. Knox
Arizona Daily Wildcat
December 8, 1998
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Nancy A. Knox

So it's the Christmas season. This means serious present giving, Kodak family moments, eating and drinking too much. Most of all, it is a holiday for children.

Those who are Christian among us designated this holiday as a celebration of the birth of a child, centuries ago, in a manger, in a little suburb of Jerusalem called Bethlehem.

All this for the celebration of a birth. All this for a child. But what are we doing with "the children" these days?

I grow wearing of hearing the generic battle cries that seems to apply to every cause. "Do it for the children." "Save the children." "We're protecting the children." Anything can be linked to children: the need for draconic drug laws, more jails, controls on the Internet. They all manage to have a "save the children" line slipped in there somewhere.

But if we're really trying to save the children, why has spending on jails surpassed spending on schools in this state? In the 1990s, the number of juveniles behind bars doubled. The amount on probation or parole tripled.

This is very expensive business. The cost of building a new juvenile detention facility averages $60,000 per inmate, and it cost $20,000 per year to keep each juvenile in a facility. Nationwide, prison costs total $20a billion a year, much more than we spend on Temporary Aid to Needy Families, known formerly as Aid to Families with Dependent Children and popularly known as welfare.

Given tight budgets at state and federal levels, the billions spent on incarceration means much less available for education and child oriented services.

The Washington Post calls it "the extravagance of vengeance." And it's true: when it comes to punishing offenders we have no problem waiving budget constraints. In the 1980s we more than doubled the amount of money spent on incarceration while slashing programs that aid poor children housing subsidies, Pell grants, vaccination programs and school lunch programs.

These programs do not apply to only a small percentage of the child population. Currently, 25 percent of all children are growing up in poverty, a 28 percent increase since 1970. Among all children 18 and under in America, 2 out of 5 are poor. The poverty rate for children under six is now higher than for any other age group in the population.

[Picture] Each day in the United States 72 newborns die. Had they been born in Japan, only 35 would have died.

Over the course of a single year, more than 40,000 American babies die before their first birthday. With our vast resources and egalitarian ideology, we now rank 20th in the world in infant mortality. This puts us behind such countries as Ireland, Spain and Costa Rica.

One of the most vocal factions is for "child saving" the anti-abortion crowd. They scream and protest about the "unborn child." I find this rather hypocritical. They are merely pro-pregnancy, not pro-child. If they really cared about children, instead of just fetuses, they would lobby for prenatal care, day care, foster care, and most of all, if they really gave a crap about children, they'd be adopting children in droves.

I wouldn't have to work in a home for medically fragile infants: those children loving anti-abortionists would have adopted them all.

Tell me how many foster children and adopted children these people have in their homes. These children are not someone else's problem. They belong to all of us.

Yes, we love our children. That is why so many of us are volunteering feverishly for their cause instead of spending hour after hour in front of the television. That is why we incarcerate juvenile offenders, rather than educate them. That is why we spend billions on corporate welfare, while cutting temporary family assistance, a program in which children account for 98 percent of the recipients, and which only accounts for less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Who needs an education? Who needs a quality childhood?

It is an ironic shame that we celebrate the birth of a child this season, who was only born to suffer and die. Nearly 2000 years later, for children, not much has changed.

Nancy A. Knox is a political science and sociology senior. She can be reached via e-mail at