I’ve recently been impressed to write on this topic. The inspiration came from a recent talk given by Dallin H. Oaks; the bulk of my message today will come from him. If you’d like to see his talk feel free, it’s located here. The opinion stated on this page will be based on my own belief system, which is rooted in my Christianity. The content here is not intended to offend anyone, so if such is the case I do apologize for the offense, though not for my opinion. I will sprinkle links throughout this post that are being used as sources, please feel free to visit those sites and read the articles.
Children are very vulnerable. They have virtually no power to protect or provide or advocate for themselves. Children need others to speak for them, and those decision-makers will hopefully put their well-being above those of self-centered adult interests. Worldwide, I think it’ll come as no surprise, millions of children are victimized each year. In some countries children are abducted to serve as soldiers in armies, and a recent UNICEF report found that each year over 2 million children are victimized through prostitution and pornography. In Colombia, for example, girls as young as 12 are reported to have submitted sexually to armed groups in order to ensure their families’ safety. Another report estimates that there are over 1 million child prostitutes in India alone.
From a Christian point of view, one of the most serious abuses of children is to deny them birth. Whoops, already stepping into controversy, aren’t I? The national birthrate in the US is the lowest in 25 years, and birthrates in many European and Asian countries have been below replacement levels for many years now. Some may think I’m raising this point purely as a religious issue, but it’s more than that. As rising generations diminish in numbers, cultures and even nations are hollowed out and eventually disappear.
One cause of the lowered birthrate is abortion. There are an estimated 40 million abortions each year. To me and to many Christians this is a great evil. Other abuses of children during pregnancy include fetal impairments that are the result of inadequate nutrition or drug use of the mother. This is tragically ironic when large numbers of couples are waiting and typically paying large amounts of money to adopt.
Childhood abuses or neglect occurring after birth are, of course, much more visible. Worldwide, almost 8 million children die before their fifth birthday, mostly from diseases that are treatable and preventable. The WHO reports that one in four children have stunted growth, mentally and physically, because of inadequate nutrition. Even in rich nations like the US children and youth are neglected. Kids growing up in poverty have inferior health care and inadequate educational opportunities. They are also exposed to dangerous environments in their physical and cultural surroundings and even from their parents. Let us remember our Lord’s teaching: “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
As a therapist, also of importance to me is the psychological and emotional abuse of children. Those who demean, bully or humiliate children or youth can inflict harm more permanent than physical injury. Making a child feel worthless, unloved, or unwanted can inflict serious and long-lasting injury on his or her emotional development. Young people struggling with any exceptional condition are particularly vulnerable and need loving understanding–not bullying and ostracism. Those who identify as having same-gender attraction are one of the largest targets for bullying. Let us pray, repent and change to be more loving and helpful to children; our own and those around us.
Of utmost importance to the well-being of children is whether their parents were married, the nature and duration of the marriage, and more broadly, the culture and expectations of marriage and child care where they live. Two scholars have said, “Throughout history, marriage has first and foremost been an institution for the procreation and raising children. It has provided the cultural tie that seeks to connect the father to this children by binding him to the mother of his children. Yet in recent times, children have increasingly been pushed from center stage.” A previous church leader in my faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) has taught that looking “upon marriage as a mere contract that may be entered into at pleasure…and severed at the first difficulty…is an evil meriting severe condemnation,” especially where children are made to suffer. And this is often the case, as over half of the divorces in a recent year involved couples with minor children. The most powerful teaching of children is by the example of their parents. Divorcing parents inevitably teach a negative lesson.
As Elder Oaks teaches, “there are surely cases when a divorce is necessary for the good of the children, but those circumstances are exceptional. In most marital contests the contending parents should give much greater weight to the interests of the children. With the help of the Lord, they can do so. Children need the emotional and personal strength that come from being raised by two parents who are united in their marriage and their goals.” For those who don’t know, Elder Oaks himself was raised by a widowed mother. He concludes that a two-parent home is “the ideal to be sought whenever possible.”
Children are also victimized by marriages that do not occur. According to a recent report, 41% of all births in the US were to women who were not married. This is extremely disturbing, perhaps all the more because the first reaction of some who read this article will be: “so what?” If so, please take a moment to read the linked pdf I’ve just given, and there are also 30 good reasons why it matters right here, from the same report. Unmarried mothers have massive challenges, and the evidence is clear that their children are at a significant disadvantage when compared with children raised by married parents. Approximately 58% of children born to unmarried mothers were born to couples who were cohabitating. Contrary to what the world at large is saying, living together in an unmarried state is not any kind of ideal arrangement, and not a good idea. Whatever I may say about these couples’ forgoing marriage, though, studies show that their children suffer significant comparative disadvantages. For children, the stability of marriage does matter.
We would be well-advised to assume the same disadvantages for children raised by couples of the same gender. Certainly the literature is controversial today given how politically charged any issue surrounding the gay and lesbian population tends to be. Same gender parenting is also a relatively new thing, so longitudinal studies (following over a sustained period of time) are very few. The latest and most thorough study finds significant disadvantages reported by young adults with a parent who had same-sex relationships prior to the child’s turning 18, however.
Whether you agree or disagree with some of my examples, I’d hope we would all unite in increasing our concern for the welfare and future of our children, the rising generation. Those of the Christian faith will recall that our Lord taught that pure little children are our role models of humility and teachableness: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” A similar teaching is taught by Jesus in the Book of Mormon, that we must repent, be baptized “and become as a little child” or we cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
So what are we to take from all this information? Perhaps it would be a good idea to see how you could apply it to your life. The topic I’ve attempted to cover here includes the dangerous world that children are born into and the need to help protect them. Do a little searching and find a good organization to get involved in. UNICEF is an example of an excellent organization, and here is a place to start. There are countless others, both at an international and at a regional or local level. Giving time and money is very helpful, and our behavior in the lives of the children around us can make a profound difference. If you are cohabiting with someone, I would invite you to consider either getting married, or perhaps moving on and finding someone who will. If you are in a marriage and divorce is an option being considered, try visiting with your local religious leader or with a professional marriage counselor. As a therapist myself I would go to someone who specialized in marital counseling rather than a general practitioner. If the religious leader or therapist isn’t a good fit for you, find one that is! If you are someone who is involved in pornography, particularly those that involve children, please believe me when I say you need help. There are some good books that can help, websites with good ideas, and also counselors who deal with addiction. You will like yourself more as a result. If you are pregnant and are considering abortion, please consider giving your child up for adoption. I know this is a sensitive subject, and in some few exceptional circumstances abortion may be an option, but for the majority of cases it is much preferable, not only for the fetus but for you. I’ve counseled more than one woman who still carried around guilt for a past abortion. There are a large number of ways to do this, here is a resource.
Take a look at that little guy at the beginning of my post, and this happy girl here at the end. Let’s focus on the importance of giving children a life free of so many of the preventable difficulties we encounter in the world today, by doing something in our own lives.