The true measure of our nation's heart -- how it treats its kids

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In a speech in which she leveled Donald Trump for boasting of a history of encounters that arguably amount to an admission serial sexual assault, it can go largely unnoticed that First Lady Michelle Obama also recounted that, in a gathering two days earlier, at the White House, she met with a group of young woman: "I told them they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I wanted them to understand that the measure of any society is how it treats women and girls."

But should the true measure of a society's humanity be broadened somewhat, and include how a society treats all children and youth? I believe so. Let's look at some measures of American adults' sanctioned treatment of kids.

Corporal Punishment

Barbarically, corporal punishment is not only allowed at homes across the U.S., it is permitted still in schools in 19 states, as well as in some penal institutions for youth.

How how how is this possible?

I would like to think and hope that this is something our First Lady, if aware of this, would risk a great deal of political capital to confront and do away with. After all, this is an affront to the dignity and respect of our nation's youth. (Do they have at least equal right to do the same to adults, to inflict equally forceful, humiliating and damaging corporate punishment on them? No. They are second class citizens, at best.)


What's more, The Guardian reports, there is a rising malnutrition epidemic in the U.S.:

in the US today, the real picture of undernutrition is different. In some cases, children who are obese who are malnourished because they are consuming the wrong types of foods - foods that are calorie dense, but nutritionally poor.

While Ms. Obama has been at the forefront of promoting healthy exercise, the interconnected malnutrition woes are understated or ignored altogether -- so her Let's Move initiative will not amount to nearly as much as it could unless 'Let's Make Sure Kids Eat Well' is an integral part of it. Until such time, our young are being deprived the opportunity to 'child' fully -- you can't flourish in any optimal way without decent nutrition.

Child Labor

And while child labor laws in the U.S. are fairly strong and fairly well enforced, despite budget draconian cuts -- The Atlantic notes that "(b)udgets for agencies that monitor workplaces are shrinking as some states roll back laws meant to limit the hours and jobs kids can work" -- there is one area in which child labor remains an endemic problem -- agriculture. As Rick Paulus points out in "American Agriculture's Child Labor Problem:"

child laborers working in America may not be entirely who you'd expect. Rather than the child workers being illegal immigrants who are skirting around laws, most of the child laborers working in agriculture are born in this country and working completely legally. See, while child labor laws in the country are strong in most areas, one of the blind spots is in the realm of agriculture.

This is due to a quirk in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the series of laws that introduced, among other things, the 40-hour work week. A large section of those laws ended the harsh conditions of child labor, but still made for exceptions in the field of agriculture:

Children can legally work on any farm at age 12, with their parents' permission, and it's not uncommon to see children as young as 7 and 8 in the fields. During peak harvest season, the children work up to 14-hour days, and earn far less than minimum wage. There is no minimum age for children working on a small farm with parental permission.
The U.S. Department of Labor still allows for children under 20 years old to be paid only $4.25 an hourfor their first 90 days of working. (After that, or when the child reaches the age of 21, they're bumped up to the standard federal minimum wage.) The only thing that children need to be allowed to work is a signature from a parent.

Nearly nonexistent wages for physically-demanding work with no time limit? No, that's not technically slavery. (While they are losing limbs and unwittingly putting their health at risk, they're not being beaten or whipped.) But it's damn close.

Health Care

And when it comes to health care for our youngest, even in the age of Obamacare, the Washington Post reported last year that "(i)n the United States, access to primary care seems to be a matter of who can afford it. Poor children are much less likely than rich children to see a doctor or a dentist for outpatient treatment or checkups."

Getting to the doctor early in life is important, says lead author Dougal Hargreaves, a pediatrician and associate professor at University College London. "We know health care in childhood and adolescence can have an especially big impact, both at the time, and on health outcomes later in life," he says.

Consistent childhood checkups head off serious problems and set up good habits for adulthood. Yet, as the researchers note, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that millions of U.S. children are not getting important preventive care, such as blood pressure checks and screenings for vision or developmental problems.

How is this possible in the putatively most wealthy nation on the planet? What does this say about any assertion that the measure of a society is how it treats its youngest?

I could go on and on -- from the U.S.'s failure to support the Convention on the Rights of the Children (it is the only nation that has not done so), which among other things permits children in some states in the U.S. to be sentenced to the death penalty -- to the lack of any semblance of a high quality education for all too many lower income kids (though President Obama regularly but vacuously claims that a "world class education" is the right of every child -- and while it is for his own children, it remains a pipedream for tens for millions), to the inability of kids in poor urban regions to even walk safely to and from schools, because of so much gun-related violence.


How do we adults measure up when it comes to our' sanctioned and knowing treatment of our nation's youngest citizens?

Pathetic and puny, in all too many ways. I totally get that it's politically correct to point the finger of blame at one political group or at those of certain political mindsets for this travesty. That's a copout, and I bet you know it, deep down.

I challenge you to do this: Go straight to a mirror and ask yourself, what can you do, right here and now to be more part of a promising solution than a contributor to this tragic problem (and by contributor, I mean that if you turn a blind eye to it, then you are contributing to to it).

What can you do, yes you, my fellow adult, to give kids a chance to achieve their full measure?