As an advocate for the orphans and other less fortunate children in my African village, one of the comments I often get during my presentations is this: "But there are poor communities and children here in America, too". Yes, there are poor kids in America, no doubt. However, what passes for poverty in America is nothing compared to the life-and-death situations in African villages.
Starting with the basics, the poorest of the poorest child in America has the basic necessities of life, i.e., food, clean water, and cloth. No kid in America has to walk for miles to get water. The poorest home in America has clean, running water in their house, and no child in America is in danger of dying from a water-borne disease.
That is a major difference!
To shed more light on the day-and-night difference between child poverty in America and Africa, I want to share the stories of two people--real life stories of girls whose families I've come to know personally.
Zansi was a promising young girl who wanted to become a doctor. She was at the top of her class in the local elementary school. But after losing both parents at age 9, she dropped out of school because of hunger. Tose was 6 years old when her father died from HIV / AIDS. Unable to provide for Tose and her two siblings by herself, the mother withdrew her from school and "leased" her as domestic labor to a wealthy family. Instead of school, the 6 year-old started working as housemaid for food and a salary to help her siblings.
Sadly, the fate of Zansi and Tose is a common thread running through the stories of many children, not only in my village of Adjara, but all over Africa.
Of course America is not a paradise. American parents have to work--and they do work hard--to provide for their children. However, the level of prosperity in America is so high that 6-year olds don't have to drop out of school to work for a living.
Having lived in America for years, I've seen some of the low-income communities. But never have I seen an American child walk around naked, or go to school without shoes. On the other hand, majority of children in my village have to go to school in barefoot.
That is another difference!
According to a Unicef report on the BBC, 33% of children (one child in three) are subjected to child labor in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the Republic of Benin, for example, "numerous children are victims of trafficking, labor or sexual exploitation, mainly in markets, quarries or fields", according to a UN News report.
America may not be a perfect place, but American children are not forced into child marriage because of privation. It is a crime in America to subject a 6-year old to domestic labor. In Africa, it is a matter of survival.
That is a significant difference!
In America, government programs like WIC and Food Stamps serve as a safety net for poor children to get basic nutrition, not to mention the support from churches and local charities.
Unfortunately, the opposite is the case in Africa. Everything that cannot be allowed to happen to a child in America happens to children in Africa. They beg for food. They go to bed hungry. They starve to death. They drop out of school to fend for themselves. I can name dozens of children who are starving in my village; who are smart, but who are forced to drop out of school because of hunger.
The America that I know has children's hospitals everywhere. Even children from poor families are guaranteed basic medical treatment. They don't have to die from preventable diseases. In my hometown, on the other hand, countless numbers of children have died from easily preventable diseases for lack of medical facilities.
So, what exactly does "There are poor children in America, too" really mean? To find out, I studied the reports of three prominent children's organizations: Children Defense Fund, Save the Children, and Columbia University's National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP). Here is the takeaway: Child poverty in America is basically about meeting a higher standard of living--a fight for better quality of food, education, environment, playground, etc.