The Globalization of Violence
In the lead article of this Newsletter we discuss the impact of growing violence on children’s lives, as described by school children in South Africa in their ‘community diagnosis’ with Child-to-Child.
Another country where children place strong emphasis on violence when diagnosing their day to day problems is the USA. For the last several years, Celine Woznica—a health educator who has worked for years with Martín Reyes—has been facilitating Child-to-Child in low-income neighborhoods of Chicago. Celine was startled when the children in Chicago, like the Cape Town children, put violence, crime, drug use, and mistreatment by adults (including parents and police) as the biggest problems affecting their well-being.
But South Africa and the USA have certain preconditions in common. Both have a brutal record of class and racial inequality. Violence begets violence. And the crisis of growing violence is global. As the gap between rich and poor widens world-wide, violence an crime increasingly threaten children’s wellbeing in many countries, especially in urban areas. Child-to-Child facilitators in Latin America noted this disturbing trend. It is especially acute in Nicaragua where poverty is escalating and unemployment has reached 70%. Even in Bolivia where indigenous populations tend to be traditionally peaceful, violence and crime are becoming enormous problems. This is a reflection of extreme poverty and widening discrepancy between rich and poor. While the privileged live in splendor, millions grovel under conditions of increasing unemployment and declining real wages. Today in Bolivia, a family of 5 needs 7 minimum wages simply to meet its basic food needs. It’s a small wonder that crime rates are high. And in Brazil, where the income gap is the highest in Latin Americas, more than 5 million hungry children live on the streets, where local businessmen sometimes pay police to brutalize or kill them.
In Argentina, where I (David Werner) was invited to speak at the 3rd National Meeting of Social Pediatrics in April, 1996, one speaker showed graphs showing health trends among children since the 1980s. While there has been a steady decline in deaths caused by infectious diseases (due in part to campaigns for immunization and oral rehydration), the death rate from accidents, and especially from violence, have climbed steeply. The speaker asserted that the startling increase in violence was a consequence of pervasive social problems, especially growing inequity, increased unemployment, and declining real wages. He concluded that new indicators for measuring well-being and development are needed. Child mortality and survival statistics are misleading. Technological interventions may lead to lowering of child death rates, but this says little about the quality of life of those who survive.
In the United States infant and maternal mortality rates may be low compared to many Third World countries. But they are the highest of the so-called “Northern Market Economies.” However, mortality rates tell us little about the quality of life of the children and youth who survive. A national survey several years ago showed that in the USA, 20% of teenage boys and 10% of girls attempt suicide! Also, the homicide rate in the USA is much higher than in any other economically prosperous country, as is the proportion of the population that lacks any form of health insurance (15%). In the USA one in four children lives below the poverty line. Yet the Contract with America has gutted one social assistance program after another, from Head Start to child support for unemployed single mothers. Over the past 10 years real wages of the working class have declined while earnings of the very rich have skyrocketed. Taxes have increased for the poor, as have tax breaks for the rich.
Social activists describe this kind of entrenched and growing inequity structural violence. Structural violence leads to personal violence, at every level of society, but especially among-and toward-those who are most marginalized and desperate.
If children's health is a concern, we must start by helping to free their minds.
Unfortunately, the United States (or better said, US government and big business) have great influence over political and economic trends worldwide. The same sort of cutbacks of public spending, decrease in real wages, and flattening of taxes that were formerly progressive (which used to help equalize gains and services across the classes) have been imposed on poor, debt-stricken countries in the form of Structural Adjustment Programs.
One key aspect of Structural Adjustment, as required by the World Bank and IMF in exchange for bail-out loans, is the privatization of government enterprises and public services. True, the selling of such enterprises provides governments with money to service foreign debt. But it also causes massive unemployment at the same time it reduces public assistance to the destitute. In each of the countries of Latin America I have visited in the past year—Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina—popular demonstrations were taking place to protest the privatization of different public enterprises and services, ranging from mining operations to telephone services to public hospitals. The protests were mostly organized by the thousands of employees who were losing their jobs. Their protests went unheeded, excepts for violent repression by police and soldiers. ‘Progress’ and ‘development’ have been defined as ‘economic growth’ which, of course, means growth for the already wealthy. And who are the poor to stand in the way of ‘progress?’
Following this fat-cat paradigm of ‘development,’ in which economic growth is seen as the ultimate measure of well-being regardless of the human and environmental costs, we are headed on a disaster course. It is time that more of us wake up. If children’s health is a concern, we must start by helping to free children’s minds. Today’s children will be tomorrow’s leaders or beasts of burden, depending on how we educate them.
This is why Martín Reyes' “education of liberation” is of such vital importance.