The Plight of Children
Are We Meeting Our Responsibility to Children?
Interaction Council, Session II, 22nd Annual Meeting
July 22, 2004
By Kirk O. Hanson, Santa Clara University
Mr. Chairman, Members of the InterAction Council, Special Guests and
Observers: I am pleased to join Prof. Hyodo in launching the discussion
of the question "Are We Meeting Our Responsibility to Children?"
As a professor of ethics, I participated in the Tokyo High Level meeting
which produced the Chairman's Report you have in your binders.
Prof. Hyodo has articulated the troubling facts which led the participants
in the Tokyo meeting to conclude NO, we are not meeting our responsibility
In addressing this failure, we must confront the ethical failure which
is at the heart of the problem. We do have an ethical responsibility to
children. They are the most vulnerable inhabitants of our globe, and it
falls to the more powerful to protect and nurture them.
In the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibility prepared by the
InterAction Council in 1997, Article 18 calls for all adults not to exploit,
abuse, or maltreat children. Article 9 sites that all peoples have the
responsibility to overcome poverty, malnutrition, ignorance, and inequality.
And in Article 10, all peoples are said to have an obligation to lend
support to those in particular need.
Thus the central question is whether we will recognize this ethical responsibility
and give it priority over other concerns. Ethics is ultimately about self
interest versus the interests of others. It is about what priority we
give to particular obligations or actions.
In our private actions, it is about what we do with the time and
with our wealth that has come from our work, from our birth, or from our
God. Do we use our wealth or some of it to aid others rather
than for our own interests and pleasures?
So it is also for nations and peoples. To honor an ethical responsibility
to children, we must value children in need in our own countries and in
countries poorer than our own more than our own pleasure, more
than other priorities which clamor for our attention. It is about being
committed to more than one's personal interest, more than to the interest
of one's nation, instead to the interests of all human beings and
in this case to the most vulnerable of them, children. This is the essence
of the global ethic that has motivated the InterAction Council and its
founder Takeo Fukuda.
To make the case for a global ethic to value others more than
our own country's interest takes leadership and courage. One will
always confront those who will contend that one's own interests
or those of one's country should take priority over the interests
of children elsewhere.
I come from a country, the United States, which is paradoxically increasingly
generous on a personal level but in recent years rather ungenerous
at the state level. Personal philanthropy by citizens of the United States
to global causes including children is increasing significantly.
It is not just Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, but an increasing number
of Americans, who are discovering the necessity of the global ethic
and the priority of global philanthropy. Nonetheless, as Mr. McNamara
cited yesterday, development and relief aid from the United States government,
so generous immediately after World War II, has fallen to just over .1%
of gross national product.
In some ways this is very hard to understand. In the case of children,
one can make a very strong practical expedient case for aid to children.
A child who is fed and educated can grow up to defend himself and his
family, can become an economic producer and can advocate for his or her
own rights. He or she needs less future aid and can even contribute to
the welfare of others. A child in desperate need and without hope is more
easily exploited, more likely to be conscripted as a child soldier, and
more likely to be recruited as a suicide bomber. An educated girl child
can advocate for her own rights and statistics show will
have fewer and healthier children.
So what can the IAC do today in addressing the failure of our nations
and our peoples to meet their responsibility to children? Among the recommendations
discussed in Tokyo were the following:
1. All countries need to recapture the sense of purpose and generosity
demonstrated after 1945.
2. Leaders must make the commitment to children a key part of their
personal ethics and philosophy, their public advocacy, and their legislative
and executive agenda.
3. Wealthy countries must recognize and honor a greater global ethical
responsibility, making all their arrangements including trade
policy contribute to the development of poorer countries.
4. NGO's must become watchdogs on national social spending for children
and also foreign assistance to support children around the globe.
5. All of us who proclaim a global ethic and responsibility to children
must listen to the voices of children and their voice about their own
needs. We are not always the wisest regarding their real needs.
6. Religious leaders and yes teachers of ethics and society
must instill an understanding and commitment to the global ethic and
the priority of children.
Finally, as in all fields of human endeavor, one must become specific
in one's advocacy. It is not enough, we concluded, to promote a general
global ethic of responsibility to children. One must embrace a responsibility
to specific children or specific needs of children to the children
of SubSaharan Africa, to AIDS orphans, to child soldiers, to girls drawn
into sexual slavery. Only in campaigning for specific children
and specific actions do we meet our responsibility to children.
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