Children: The Invisible Victims

The December 14 Newtown, Conn. tragedy has raised questions regarding how we care for and protect our children and whether we should challenge the rights of gun owners. While I support the Second Amendment, I agree that the laws may need revisiting to keep weapons out of the hands of the dangerous or unstable. But many more children are killed yearly in incidents that are often just as gruesome. And the number of those who are injured, exploited and held back is not one that is included in any set of statistics.

Children suffer because they are abused and neglected. Children starve because their mothers and fathers are not paid a living wage and are discriminated against because of their race or class. Or because a parent who is jailed for a minor drug possession carries that burden forever, eliminating any possibility of hope for a better future for his or her children.

The setbacks of children are the setbacks of parents who continue to work off student loans with high interest rates that cannot be reset (further lining the pockets of financial institutions who themselves pay nothing), indenturing them for life and preventing them from advancing the welfare of their families. These young parents signed up for the expensive educations they were told would be necessary to their futures, but the joke was on them, wasn’t it?

Male children are forced to bear arms, carry bombs, act as sacrificial lambs in wartime. Female children are raped and mutilated world-wide, and here in the United States where religious practices allow such atrocities. They are killed for being too bold, too beautiful, too independent, too American.

The shooter was a young man whose motives and demons may have carried over from childhood. Was he a victim himself, untreated, disregarded, falling into a chasm of despair? We will probably never know.

The news is filled with the horror of Newtown, but there are more frightening boogeymen out there. They are not typically found in sleepy New England towns but in strongholds of power like Washington, DC, where bureaucrats shuffle paperwork to appear busy as they avoid any serious discussion about how to protect our children. Pro-gun conservatives step up their rhetoric, and liberals and others who don’t want to be excluded from the dialogue decry the administration’s lack of attention to gun laws.

And they say, “It’s for the children,” as if it actually is. The high-minded discourse is a scapegoat for the lack of attention to the real pain and suffering of the children who are at risk from the contamination of their food, water and air in favor of corporate profits of donors to political campaigns.

Children in less bucolic spots than Newtown suffer in deteriorating cities awash with filth, crime and despair. The rights to rural and tribal lands are bought up or leased from the government by corporations who plunder and deforest in the quest for oil and gas and other natural treasures–poisoning wells, fouling the air and finally abandoning wastelands rendered bleak and toxic. The slaughter of the environment may not kill children immediately, but it often causes them to die much sooner, and it certainly does destroy part of their souls.

Many children lack access to adequate education and basic necessities, including medical and mental health care, as hospitals are swallowed up by corporations and doctors swamped with paperwork and reduced fees leave family practices in favor of specialty medicine. The United States continues to stand alone as the developed country that does not afford universal health care to its citizens. No amount of hypothesizing about reform will change that fact. And the little children continue to suffer.

Children are outfitted and groomed for athletics for the purpose of lining the pockets of colleges, professional franchises and sponsors. They suffer brain injuries, broken bones and humiliation if they don’t live up to standards set by adults. And yet, they are told not to speak to strangers, stray from home or question their own judgment and the moral and religious views with which they have been indoctrinated.

The biggest failure lies with the media. Half of today’s headlines are for stories about the shootings. Overcome with a fear of media giants and advertisers, “reporters” cower in the corner as the blood of other small victims seeps up through the floorboards. They use precious air time that could be the conduit for real improvement in the lives of our children to repeat over and over, like painted jack-in-the-boxes, the details of the incident, hoping another newsmaker occurs before they run out of story and have to actually report on the factual state of our children’s lives. But they won’t. Fox or MSNBC, doesn’t matter. There will never be any real reporting through traditional media on the invisible victims of greed and indifference, because that might rally us into doing something about it. But would we?

Our hearts go out to the families of the Newtown victims. Children are our hope and our future. We must take better care of them.

Sheila Velazquez lives and writes in Northwest Massachusetts. Her work is informed by decades of experience with unions, agriculture, public health, politics and her support of populism. She welcomes contact by email: Read other articles by Sheila.