Suffer the Little Children

For a people that claims to treasure children, Americans have an odd way of showing it. The sharp line between people of faith who oppose abortion and those who believe it sometimes necessary is seen by many as the primary moral argument in the United States today. But the vitriolic tone of this often screeching debate leads one to wonder why such passion doesn't extend its embrace to children once born.

Post-natal infant mortality rates put the United States 44th in the world, per the CIA, lower than the much-disparaged Cuba. We have the second-worst newborn mortality rate in the developed world. And for those who survive, a UNICEF report on "child wellbeing" says the United States ranks as one of the lowest among industrial nations. Child wellbeing in the study factors in abuse and neglect as well as whether a child is clothed, fed and properly cared for.

And what of the children whose wellbeing falls below the standards expected of the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation?

Since the U.S. ranks 18th out of the world's 24 richest countries in child education, one need look no further than our bulging criminal justice system. Given the punitive climate in a society that incarcerates more of its citizens than any other in the world, it should be no surprise that the United States has more of its youth behind bars, with a heavy emphasis on kids of color, than any other nation.

While a narrow (5-4) decision of the U.S. Supreme Court ended the use of the death penalty against juveniles, dragging us into accord with the international community only five short years ago, we remain the only country in the world today that imposes a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on those under the age of 18.

Life without parole is life without hope. Over 2,500 children in the United States have been sentenced to a life without love, without meaning, without decency, without being allowed a shred of the most minimal human aspirations.

Where, then, are these impassioned moralists when blameless children have the misfortune of being born into a society that enjoys, with Somalia, the dubious distinction of being one of two in the world that refuse to sign the international Convention on the Rights of the Child?

Mike Farrell, an actor, is President of the Board of Death Penalty Focus, an international abolition organization. He is the author of "Just Call Me Mike; A Journey to Actor and Activist" and "Of Mule and Man."