Child sacrifice has been taboo among the world’s great religions for at least three thousand years, yet today children are being sacrificed to the gods of consumerism, violence and neglect. Economic injustice, racial and ethnic and religious hatred, and the abuse of political power are resulting in genocide of the world’s most vulnerable citizens – children who live in poverty.
Malnutrition kills an estimated 5 million children under the age of five every year which means that on average, a child dies from malnutrition every six seconds.¹ Approximately twenty four thousand children die of poverty related causes each day.² During the last decade alone, wars have slaughtered 2 million children and disabled or seriously injured 6 million children. More than 20 million have been forced to leave their homes and live as refugees.³ More children than soldiers now die from war. A 2006 UNICEF report estimates that the number of street children is in the tens of millions or higher.4 Some 200 million children between the ages of five and seventeen work for low wages and 126 million work in dangerous conditions to supply inexpensive products for citizens of more affluent nations.5 About 1 million Asian children labor in cramped quarters, making carpets for sale in the West.6
The growing disparity in the distribution of basic resources threatens to drastically increase the number of poor people and intensify their suffering. A fifth of the world’s people now share less than 1.5% of world income.7 Those most at risk in this growing inequity are the children. They are the most vulnerable to simple disease, injury, illiteracy, neglect, malnutrition and abuse. The opportunity to close the gap for children now exists, but the door is not likely to remain open for very long because the expense increases with each year of inadequate action.
Accompanying the economic disparity and violence is the ever-present threat of disease and epidemics. Although progress has been made in the prevention of childhood diseases, new threats are emerging. HIV/AIDS, for example is creating orphans around the world. Worldwide, as many women as men are contracting HIV. “Globally, young women aged 15–24 years account for just over 65 per cent of all HIV infections.”8 An increasing number of children in the United States suffer from the demons of violence, poverty, neglect, and inadequate health care. The gap between the rich and the poor in the United States is wider than at any time since World War II. The United States is twice as affluent as it was in 1964 when child poverty was actually declining. Yet even with this affluence, the resources for health, education and the nurture of children is not increasing proportionately. Crime, violence, neglect and despair are bred and nurtured in the soil of America’s growing economic disparity.
In 2009, the U.S. poverty rate reached its highest level at 14.3% which means that approximately 43.6 million Americans were living in poverty. 9 Approximately 15.5 million of these impoverished Americans are children. Preschool vaccinations lag behind those in some third-world nations. Technology and science have the means of treating and preventing many diseases, however these resources are less available to the most vulnerable people – the children and the impoverished.
Nearly every two hours a child is killed by gunfire in the U.S.10 Between 1979 and 2005, 104,419 American children died from guns.11 Homicide is now the third leading cause of death in children ages 10-14. In children ages 15-24, homicide is the second leading cause of death and suicide is the third leading cause.12 Approximately 794,000 children were reported abused or neglected in 2007, one every 40 seconds.13
The statistics alone do not tell what is happening to the world’s children. Children are victims of many poverties. Spiritual poverty is more difficult to measure, but its devastating effects on the affluent and impoverished are evident.
To be deprived of love, hope and transcendent meaning is to be robbed of the abundant life that Christ intends for all. All children have a basic need and right to know that they are loved infinitely by God and that God seeks for them a life of joy, hope and meaning. Children need to experience their identity and worth as both recipients and means of God’s grace. What is happening to the world’s children represents a sinful devaluing of God’s gracious gift of life and a thwarting of God’s justice for all humanity.