What constitutes a “normal” day is different for every child, depending on where they live and their family life. For some, every day is a struggle to survive, especially for children in war-torn countries and those who are victims of trafficking. Other children around the globe are occupied with thoughts of attending school, looking for a summer job, and determining what to do with their leisure time.
For many of us fortunate enough to live in a country with a thriving economy, plenty of educational opportunities, and quality healthcare, some feelings of guilt may accompany that privilege. We may ask ourselves why we’re so blessed when so many others live a difficult life. We may complain about typical first-world problems, such as slow internet speeds or a long line at the coffee shop, when we should feel grateful that we have a roof over our head and at least a small amount of disposable income.
This type of privilege may make us feel uncomfortable at times, but those awkward feelings can help cultivate an awareness of the disparities that exist in our modern world. That awareness is the first step towards helping disadvantaged and exploited children across the world. By acknowledging our privilege, we move ever closer towards understanding the factors that contribute to child danger worldwide and changing those factors. By doing so, perhaps we can help more children to live a “normal” life, where they don’t have to worry about basic needs such as food and healthcare.
Global Threats to Children
The statistics are sobering: Children comprise nearly half of the 900 million people who struggle to survive on less than $1.90 USD per day, which is considered extreme poverty. Further, many of those children don’t have access to education. Approximately 124 million children and teens worldwide don’t attend school. And a lack of education leads to low literacy rates and can greatly impact future opportunities. What’s more, studies show that poverty and child mortality rates drop among those who complete primary and secondary education.
In our interconnected world, the ability to read is paramount, yet large segments of the global population remain illiterate. Over the last 65 years, the global literacy rate has steadily increased by 4% every five years, but 17% of people across the world still cannot read or write. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia account for the majority of the world’s illiterate.
Despite the social implications of illiteracy, however, the issue is minor in comparison to some of the other daily struggles faced by disadvantaged children such as food insecurity, hazardous living conditions, and the threat of armed conflict.
The Importance of Proper Health and Nutrition
While food insecurity is a reality for many low-income populations in developed countries, the issue is primarily seen in the same regions where illiteracy is also rampant. Social programs such as food stamps and food pantries typically don’t exist in poorer nations, and many children survive on one meal a day.
Food insecurity affects millions of children across the globe, and the lack of access to healthy food contributes to vitamin deficiency, stunted growth, and numerous other health problems. Globally, 45% of all child deaths were caused by poor nutrition in 2011.
On the surface, that number seems almost impossible considering how advanced the healthcare industry has become, but keep in mind that healthcare access isn’t a reality for many children. In the developed world, many have the privilege of seeking healthcare any time that it’s needed — and even to decline recommended treatment if we so choose.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement of people declining to get their children immunized, for example. This trend flouts established scientific knowledge. Immunization has prevented millions of deaths, as well as led to the eradication of smallpox and a drastic reduction in potentially fatal illnesses from diphtheria to whooping cough.
Nurses and other healthcare professionals continue to advocate for immunization adherence, but the reality is that the anti-vax movement is growing within developed nations. At the same time, many disadvantaged children and their parents are unable to gain access to the life-saving vaccinations they so desperately need. For those families, the idea that one would decline vaccinations and other forms of treatment likely seems unfathomable.
Using Privilege to Make the World Better
The ability to decline vaccinations is the epitome of privilege, as are our habits of wasting food and eating to excess. But there are many ways that those in developed nations who are educated, literate, and well-fed can use their privilege to help the less fortunate.
First, we can be mindful of our eating habits, especially where food waste is concerned. As so many of the world’s children suffer from malnutrition, it’s in poor taste to mindlessly consume and throw away uneaten food. Consider giving to local food pantries, or make a donation to organizations that provide food to those in need.
We can also work to improve literacy rates by volunteering our time and/or used children’s books to charitable organizations that help foster reading and writing skills. Several nonprofits, including Book Aid International and Room to Read, help build libraries and distribute books to hospitals, refugee camps, and rural areas in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.
Finally, we should remain grateful for what we have, even if we feel hopeless or insecure in the present moment. Think about it: While many of us worry about things like protecting our personal data from hackers and cultivating a healthy work-life balance, millions of children wonder where their next meal is coming from. We should enjoy our privileged existence — but never take it for granted.