“Whenever Mother’s Day rolls around, I regret having eaten my young.”
There was a time when I laughed at this classic Edward Frascino cartoon. Not anymore. Because a rash of related news items last week has me convinced that as a species we might not eat our young, but we certainly do a damn good job of killing them—physically and psychically.
The biggest news was the Pennsylvania attorney general’s in-depth report that a thousand youngsters suffered sexual abuse by hundreds of Catholic priests since the 1950s.
But there was other news last week, not as widely reported, about kids suffering at the hands of uncaring adults.
Under pressure from activists and the courts, South Africa’s government announced on Tuesday that it would finally tackle sanitation in schools, where two children recently drowned in pit toilets.
Pit toilets are made from cheap metal, are shoddily built, and are left uncovered over latrines dug into the ground. They are the only facilities for hundreds of thousands of children across the country.
During his first week at school in January 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape drowned in one.
"When I arrived at the opening of the toilet hole all I could see was a small hand," his father said. "No-one had thought to take him out.”
A court ruled that the province's education department was not to blame.
A few months ago, a five-year-old girl drowned in a pit latrine. When Lumka Mkhethwa went missing from her primary school, villagers conducted a fruitless overnight search. The following day, sniffer dogs led police to her school, where her tiny body lay at the bottom of a dark, feces-filled latrine.
A pit toilet, like those in which two five-year-olds drowned.
Then there was the news item out of Germany, reporting that so far this summer, twenty children under the age of fifteen have drowned. Lifeguards attribute some of the deaths to phone-addicted parents who aren’t keeping an eye on their children when they’re in the water.
An official of the German federation of swimming-pool supervisors said they’re seeing parents “treat swimming pools like a kindergarten” because they’re “fixated” on their smartphones.
The final news of the week: the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, returned on Wednesday for another year of class—six months after seventeen people were killed there.
MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, who has two children in Catholic school, interviewed a survivor of the clergy abuse scandal that day. When she had finished, she said to the camera: “There was a time when we looked to the government and to the Church for cues on how to act, how to build communities, and how to work together. Right now, those days seem so far away.”
What Ms. Ruhle needed to add is that we are the government. We are the Church. We are the teachers of our kids. We are the builders of communities and teams.
Young people are beginning to get it—that it’s up to them to take control in areas where we adults have abdicated.
In an open letter, a group of young Catholics spoke about the need for a cleansing fire to renew their church.
“We are angry that ‘everybody knew’ about these crimes, that so few people did anything about them, and that those who spoke out were ignored.”
And they promised action of their own: “We will refuse to be silent when we see or hear of sexual assaults taking place anywhere in the Church and by any person, clerical or lay. When those we know are assaulted, we will encourage the victims to come forward. We will stand with them until justice is done. We will not accept silence and inaction. Rather, we will publicly name and expose those who harm others and superiors who fail to take action when others are harmed.”
Since the Parkland murders, eight hundred protest events—mostly driven by kids—have been held throughout the country to press for stricter gun-control laws.
Some student survivors of Parkland have even traveled the country by bus during the summer to register voters. Their effort ended a few days ago in Newtown, Connecticut, where twenty children and six adults were slaughtered two weeks before Christmas 2012—the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
So far, state legislatures have passed at least fifty new gun regulations, largely because of pressure sparked by the Parkland movement.
The headline for a new era? These words from a high school sophomore: “Let us have a childhood.”
If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my new novel, Billy of the Tulips, a sensitive boy’s grim engagement with innocence and iniquity, now available in both print and Kindle from Amazon.