When Childhood Is a Nightmare
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN SPAIN
Today—a typical day in the 1990’s—200 thousand children will fight in guerrilla wars, 100 million school-age children will not attend school, 150 million children will go to bed hungry, 30 million children will sleep on the streets, and 40 thousand children will die.
IF THE above figures seem frightening, the faces behind the figures are heartrending. Below are the brief stories of five children whose desperate plights help us to understand the meaning of these grim statistics.
A child soldier. Mohammad is only 13 years old, but he is already a seasoned soldier in southwestern Asia, a veteran of seven battles. He used to tend goats before he went to war—at the age of ten. Now, Mohammad wields a lightweight AK-47 assault rifle, which he does not hesitate to use. In one skirmish he killed two enemy soldiers at short range. When asked how he felt about killing, he replied: “I was happy because I killed them.” Children make better soldiers, his officer explains, “because they are not afraid.”
A child worker. Four-year-old Woodcaby lives in a cinder-block house on a Caribbean island. He rises at 6:00 a.m. in order to attend to his daily household chores: cooking, fetching water, and cleaning his master’s house. He gets no wages and will probably never go to school. Woodcaby says he misses his parents, but he doesn’t know where they are. His day finishes at 9:30 p.m., and if he is fortunate, he will not go to bed hungry.
A hungry child. In the African village of Comosawha, an 11-year-old girl spends each weary day grubbing for weeds. The onion-weed bulbs—practically all that can grow in the parched soil—serve to keep her and her family alive. The bulbs are either boiled or mashed and then fried. A deadly combination of drought and civil war has brought the villagers to the verge of starvation.
A child of the streets. Edison is just one of the thousands of street children in a large South American city. He makes a little money cleaning shoes, and he sleeps on the pavement near the bus station, along with other children who huddle close to one another during the cold nights. Sometimes he turns to petty crime to bolster his earnings as a shoeshine boy. Twice he has been beaten up by the police, and he has spent three months in jail. Edison insists that he has now “almost” given up drugs and glue sniffing. He dreams of being a mechanic, of learning a trade.
The death of a child. It is a cold, wet morning on Dugen mountain in the Middle East. An infant, wrapped in a burial cloth, is placed in a shallow grave. The baby died of diarrhea—a common cause of infant mortality. The mother is a refugee and her milk dried up during their exhausting trek to safety. In desperation she fed her child sugar and water, but the water was infected, and the baby died. Like 25,000 other children who were buried that same day, he never reached his first birthday.
Multiplied thousands of times, these tragic accounts illustrate what life is like for many of the world’s children. Childhood, a time to learn and mature in the shelter of a loving family, has for these children become a nightmare from which many will never wake up.
Peter Adamson, editor of the report The State of the World’s Children, declared in 1990: “Death and suffering on this scale are simply no longer necessary; they are therefore no longer acceptable. Morality must march with capacity.”
[Picture Credit Line on page 3]