No higher duty

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That we, as Canadians, have become vassals of our own stupidity is not nearly as shameful as the ritual sacrifices we make to maintain this status before the gods of politics who guarantee to keep it that way.

Now, we learn (not for the first time) that we are more than willing to sacrifice our children on the altar of standard public policy, for a few dollars here and there, rather than risk beginning the world again with national educational programs that would, in all likelihood, re-invent our communities, our economy – indeed, our entire society – for the better.

For the second time in as many weeks, the news about the condition of Canada’s kids is out, and it’s far from encouraging.

“Since the House of Commons adopted the unanimous resolution to seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000, child poverty rates have increased.”

This comes from the Human Development Council, based in Saint John. Its 2014 New Brunswick Child Poverty Report Card, released this week also observed: “In 1989, when the resolution was passed, 1,066,150 children (15.8 per cent) in Canada lived in poverty. In 2012, both the number and percentage of children living in poverty had increased to 1,340,530 (19.2 per cent).”

Meanwhile, as I wrote last week, 28 per cent of kids in this province are fat; 40 per cent get practically no daily exercise at all. Seven to 13 per cent of those in middle and high school smoke cigarettes either occasionally or regularly. Nearly five per cent admit to taking methamphetamines, at least once in their tender lives.

The injury and hospitalization rate for children in New Brunswick is almost twice the national average (41.4 cases per 10,000 inhabitants, compared with of 25.8 for the country as a whole). And, as if these facts weren’t bad enough, there are the morbid metrics about ritual abuse to consider.

As the Telegraph-Journal’s Chris Morris reported last Wednesday about the seventh, annual “State of the Child Report” from the province’s Child and Youth Advocate Norman Bosse, “Two in three girls in New Brunswick say they have been bullied. The rate of children and youth who are victims of family violence in New Brunswick is much higher than the national average (365 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the national average of 267).”

Then, there’s this appalling finding: “The rate of New Brunswickers charged with sexual offences involving children is much higher than the national average (seven per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 4.3 per 100,000 inhabitants for Canada as a whole).”

It’s a truly chilling comfort to know that these are not just New Brunswick or Canadian phenomena; they are endemic around the world. According to some estimates, more than 600 million children on this planet live in abject poverty, subject to all the predations that civilization proscribes (I’d bet the number is, in fact, much higher).

Still, as the income gap between the working poor and the occasionally industrious rich widens everywhere, so does our empathy for those whose circumstances we can barely recognize. We steadily become a society of them against us – our team opposed to the dreaded others.

Our communities become gated, our moats around our compounds grow, our appreciation of democracy and the communal importance of our public institutions withers, and those who manage to ford our fortifications to knock on our doors, looking for a charitable contribution or, more likely, gainful employment, risk a taser shot to the head, or worse.

There is something we can do about this, of course.

We can stop building walls around ourselves by refusing to buy what our mainstream political parties are selling in return for our votes.

We can start engaging in the political process at the provincial and national levels to secure not our narrow self-interests, but our common good.

And what, for the future of our economy, our society, our very souls, is more commonly good than the welfare of our children?

After all, they are us, and in their tearful, hungry, terrified eyes, we become them.

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