More than a week ago, Jayme Closs, a 13-year-old from Wisconsin, escaped her 21-year-old abductor who had killed her parents. When she turned up 66 miles from home, having been missing for almost three months, her relatives, her small town, and even the police celebrated. Her return from a horrific experience, especially for a child, became a riveting national news story for days on end.
I caught a report on Closs at NBC Nightly News just after I first read today's piece by TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg about what might be thought of as the global war on children (from the U.S.-Mexico border to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and beyond). In reality, there's a world of Jayme Closses out there and for most of them, unfortunately, no small towns are preparing to celebrate their freedom from a hell on Earth. Across this planet, children are essentially being abducted or worse in staggering numbers. In Yemen, they're being starved to death by the tens of thousands. Across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, as Greenberg reports today, they're being armed, sent into wars, killed in those wars, or displaced from their homes by them -- and often sent fleeing across international borders. On significant parts of the planet, as Greenberg has pointed out before at this website, children are being deprived of their rightful futures in a host of ways. The cruelty toward, and mistreatment of, the young in this world should take our breath away. Unfortunately, while Americans may focus on an occasional Jayme Closs, the general abuse and misuse of children doesn't hold a candle to the president's tweets or his fantasy of a Great Wall. And that's worse than too bad, as Greenberg suggests today. Tom
Creating a Global Lost Generation
By Karen J. Greenberg
Halfway through 2018, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski hurled a mother-to-mother dagger at Ivanka Trump. How, during the very weeks when the headlines were filled with grim news of child separations and suffering at the U.S.-Mexico border, she asked, could the first daughter and presidential adviser be so tone-deaf as to show herself hugging her two-year-old son? Similarly, six months earlier, she had been photographed posing with her six-year-old daughter in the glossiest of photos. America had, in other words, found its very own Marie Antoinette, gloating while others suffered. "I wish," Brzezinski tweeted at Ivanka, "you would speak for all mothers and take a stand for all mothers and children."
The problem, however, wasn't just the heartlessness and insensitivity of the first daughter, nor was it simply the grotesque disparity between those mothers on the border and her. The problem was that the sensibility displayed in those photos -- that implicit we-are-not-them exceptionalism -- was in no way restricted to Ivanka Trump. A subtle but pervasive sense that this country and its children can remain separated from, and immune to, the problems currently being visited upon children around the world is, in fact, widespread.
If you need proof, just watch a night of television and catch the plentiful ads extolling the bouncy exuberance of our children -- seat-belted into SUV's, waving pennants at sports events, or basking in their parents' praise for doing homework. If you think about it, you'll soon grasp the deep disparity between the image of children and childhood in the United States and what's happening to kids in so many other places on Earth. The well-ingrained sense of exceptionalism that goes with such imagery attests to a wider illusion: that the United States can continue to stand apart from the ills plaguing so much of the world.
In truth, the global reality of children in crisis may be the most pressing issue we as a nation need to confront if we are ever to understand that global ills can't be kept eternally outside our borders, not with first-daughter hugs, not with a self-centered version of tunnel vision, not even with a "great, great wall."
From north to south, east to west, children around the world are suffering, increasingly unsafe, and preyed upon in ever larger numbers. For years now, their deaths from disease, deprivation, starvation, and conflicts of every sort have been on the rise. They are increasingly fodder for weapons of war. This is the case, disturbingly, for countries in which the United States has been deeply involved in its post-9/11 global war on terror, which over the last 17 years has unsettled a significant part of the planet and badly affected children in particular.
In the first three-quarters of 2018, for instance, 5,000 children were reportedly killed or maimed in war-torn Afghanistan where the U.S. still has 14,000 troops and countless private contractors. Save the Children estimates that up to 85,000 children under the age of five may have died of starvation in a Yemen being torn apart by civil war and, according to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, at least 1,248 children have been killed and as many wounded in U.S.-backed Saudi air strikes there since 2015.
By the end of 2017, at least 14,000 children had been reported killed in the war in Syria, "by snipers, machine guns, missiles, grenades, roadside bombs and aerial bombs." In addition, as journalist Marcia Biggs showed in an award-winning PBS NewsHour special, vast numbers of children have been maimed and, having lost limbs, struggle to live with (or without) prosthetics, while their schools have been reduced to rubble.
Nor is such devastation limited to the Middle East. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die daily worldwide due to starvation. In Africa, violence and hunger threaten children in increasing numbers. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, millions of children are reportedly "at risk of severe acute malnutrition."
The Making of a Lost Generation
When it comes to children, those who survive the rigors of our present world often find themselves homeless, stateless, and parentless. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, reports that the number of displaced people, both those who have fled across national boundaries as refugees and those still in their own countries, reached a staggering 68.5 million by the end of 2017. According to UNICEF, nearly half of that displaced population are children, an estimated 30 million of them. Many of those children are starving, without access to medical care or basic human needs like toilets and clean water, not to speak of schools or a future. Surprising numbers of them, as in Iraq, are in refugee or internal displacement camps. As Ben Taub points out, reporting for the New Yorker on post-ISIS Iraq, many such children have "been abandoned or orphaned by the war."
In addition, living in areas torn by violence and warfare, those children have often witnessed atrocities on a mass scale. Inside and outside the camps where so many of them are now living, youngsters are subject to rape, violence, and abuse. In Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among other places, such children have sometimes had siblings and parents killed right before their eyes. According to Taub, those in Iraq who are suspected of having relatives in ISIS, or an affiliation with ISIS, are often brutally punished or even executed. Human Rights Watch reports that the security services in Iraqi Kurdistan are using "beatings, stress positions, and electric shock on boys in their custody" between the ages of 14 and 17 in order to elicit confessions about ties to ISIS.
In a brilliant and searing new documentary, ISIS, Tomorrow: The Lost Souls of Mosul, filmmakers Francesca Mannocchi and Alessio Romenzi report on children who survived three years of Islamic State rule in that Iraqi city, significant parts of which now lie in ruins. Many of them are presently held in camps that are, in Taub's term, "de facto prisons," along with other alleged family members of ISIS fighters. The filmmakers document the psychological scars of being held in such places, as well as of having been subjected to the indoctrination and training offered by ISIS. Having been brutalized, they are full of anger and the desire for revenge. As one young man in the film declares, "May God do the same to them as they did to us."
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