No surprise that we don’t value our children
Until we examine out approach to war and decide that there must be other means of resolving international differences, we are all doomed to share responsibility for this lack of care.
If we want to be at the top of the Unicef league table of 21 economically advanced countries, we have to change our national norm and live by the sanctity of life; abandon an unfounded trust in nuclear weapons and refuse to go along with the replacement of Trident.
So long as they rely on killing someone else for their sense of security, British and American parents will continue to undervalue their children.
The news that the UK and the USA are bottom of the list of advanced countries in how they care for children should come as no surprise. These two states that fail to value the lives of children are both nuclear weapon states, and both war-fighting countries. A society that is prepared to destroy the lives of families by bombing them and even risk destroying the planet has no problem in neglecting individuals. The needs of small, vulnerable and apparently insignificant lives are the easiest to ignore.
Sadly, the British have never liked children very much, either seeing them as possessions or small adults. We rather pride ourselves on not being as gushing as the Italians or as earnest as the Dutch in our attitude to children. At least in the past we did our best to look after the little darlings and give them the best start we could. But now it seems that children have no place in society except as a problem.
At some time or other, probably all parents are culpable in feeling children are a nuisance. Yet we recognise this as selfishness and soon get back to enjoying the company of our kids and wanting them to live life to the full. But if we want to give them the sense of security that is the basis of a happy life, then we have to have it ourselves first.
In the rush to blame poverty, TV, work load, single parents and early sexualisation for the miserable start given to some children, we are in danger of overlooking insecurity as the root of our problems. I want to argue a connection between personal security and Security with a capital S that not only exists, but is crucial to our understanding of the shocking state of out children’s welfare. Until we examine out approach to war and decide that there must be other means of resolving international differences, we are all doomed to share responsibility for this lack of care.
Foreign Policy and Defence Policy are generally accepted as matters for government, whereas global warming, fair trade and poverty in the developing world
are things that ordinary people are supposed to care about. Leave international relations to the ‘ministry of we-know-best’ is the message. All governments exaggerate some social norms and ignore others, but the key one taught by UK and US governments is that we must threaten to annihilate people in other parts of the world in order to feel safe. What is really going on is the manipulation of fear in order to gain support for wars and the possession of nuclear weapons. Selective, misleading or totally untrue information fuels it. This fear of ‘the other’ is devastating in its effect on vulnerable or stressed adults trying to understand their children, because children are survivors. They will exploit any insecurity in adults and gain power in the relationship that does them no good at all and leaves the adult(s) feeling hopelessly inadequate. Parents are persuaded to have a fear of the wider world, and that the only way to protect ourselves – and out families – is with violence. The result is not to ensure security, but to undermine it.
Children interviewed today who express fear of bullying or street violence echo the fear that lies under the surface in the adults they meet. And children resorting to violence to assert themselves have in turn been affected by this society’s underlying reliance on violence. Whether it is fear of crime or fear that, “If we don’t have nuclear weapons, Britain will be attacked or overrun by our enemies”, both are nurtured by the state.
But of course the real power lies with those who seek it. It is a rare politician who is not swept up in the whirl of Westminster. And power to this government means nuclear weapons. Other states, such as The Netherlands, Sweden or Switzerland, look after their children better than we do. They also function very well without nuclear weapons and prioritise people above power. Why is it that this Prime Minister is so keen for us to be a war-fighting nation as he proclaimed in Plymouth last month? Assuming we get the government we deserve, its priorities will reflect the values of the electorate. This interplay of engendered fear, reinforcing the power that spreads it, is nothing new. But it is a dangerous syndrome, especially in a nuclear world where our children are suffering for lack of care.
If we want to be at the top of the Unicef league table of 21 economically advanced countries, we have to change our national norm and live by the sanctity of life; abandon an unfounded trust in nuclear weapons and refuse to go along with the replacement of Trident. So long as they rely on killing someone else for their sense of security, British and American parents will continue to undervalue their children.
Di McDonald has run the Nuclear Information Service since 1992, circulating data on military nuclear transport and nuclear weapons issues to a wide range of groups and organisations. Before that she worked with Sea Action, Cruisewatch and Greenham Women when her six children were small, relying heavily on help from family, friends and other campaigners.