I. In the Case of "The Envelope" I Am Asked To Save (Prevent)
Children from Dying. Surely World Hunger Affects Many People,
Old Alike: Why Are Children Being Singled Out for My Attention and
"Children are the real victims of world hunger: at least 70% of the
malnourished people of the world are children. By best estimates
thousand children a day die of starvation (Food and Agricultural
Organization (FAO) 1992a: World Food Supplies and Prevalence
Chronic Undernutrition in Developing Regions as Assessed in
Rome: FAO Press: 5). Children do not have the ability to forage for
themselves, and their nutritional needs are exceptionally high. Hence,
are unable to survive for long on their own, especially in lean times.
Moreover, they are especially susceptible to diseases and conditions
the staple of undernourished people: simple infections and simple
(United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) 1993: The State of
World's Children 1993. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 22).
others provide adequate food, water, and care, children will suffer
(World Health Organization (WHO) 1974: Health Statistics
Report. Geneva: World Health Organization: 677, 679). This fact
frame any moral discussions of the problem.
"And so it does at least pre-reflectively. When most of us first see
seriously undernourished children, we want to help them, we have a
responsibility to them, we feel sympathy toward them (Hume, D.
Treatise of Human Nature, L.A. Selby-Bigge (ed.). Oxford: Oxford
University Press: 368-71). Even those who think we needn't or
the starving take this initial response seriously: they go to great
pains to show
that this sympathetic response should be constrained. They typically
that assisting the hungry will demand too much of us, or that
would be useless and probably detrimental. An effort is, therefore,
show that this sympathetic reaction is morally inappropriate, not
that it does
"Our initial sense of responsibility to the starving and malnourished
of the world is intricately tied to their being paradigmatically
innocent. They are paradigmatically vulnerable because they do not
wherewithal to care for themselves; they must rely on others to care
All children are directly dependent on their parents or guardians,
children whose parents cannot provide them food -- either because
or economic arrangements - are also indirectly dependent on others:
agencies or (their own or foreign) governments. Children are
paradigmatically innocent since they are neither causally nor morally
responsible for their plight. They did not cause drought, parched
erosion, and over-population; nor are they responsible for social,
and economic arrangements which make it more difficult for their
obtain food. If anyone were ever an innocent victim, the children
and die from hunger are.
"Infants are especially vulnerable. They temporarily lack the
would empower them to acquire the necessities of life. Thus, they
completely dependent on others for sustenance. This partly explains
to help infants in need. James Q. Wilson claims that our instinctive
to the cry of a newborn child is demonstrated quite early in life.
"'As early as ten months of age, toddlers react visibly to signs of
others, often becoming agitated; when they are one and a half years
seek to do something to alleviate the other's distress; by the time
they are two
years old they verbally sympathize . . . and look for help' (Wilson, J.
The Moral Sense. New York: The Free Press: 139-40).
"Although this response may be partly explained by early training,
evidence suggests that humans have an 'innate sensitivity to the
others' (Wilson 1993: 140). Indeed, Hans Jonas claims the parent-
relationship is the 'archetype of responsibility,' where the cry of the
baby is an ontic imperative 'in which the plain factual "is" evidently
coincides with an "ought"' (Jonas, H. 1984: The Imperative of
Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 30).
- Hugh LaFolette & Larry May, "Suffer the Children" in World
and Morality. Ed. William Aiken and Hugh LaFolette. Prentice
Princeton, New Jersey, 1998.
Some useful links:
Children and Poverty,"
NPR's Talk of the Nation. Guests: Dr. Marc
Editor, What Governments Can Do: Seventh Annual Report on the
State of World Hunger,
Senior Research Associate, Bread for the World Institute;
Associate Director, Share Our Strength. October 21, 1996.
" Children and Poverty," NPR's Talk of the Nation. Guests: Dr. Marc J. Cohen, Editor, What Governments Can Do: Seventh Annual Report on the State of World Hunger, Senior Research Associate, Bread for the World Institute; Debbie Shore, Associate Director, Share Our Strength. October 21, 1996.
Children's Agenda: New
Challenges for Social Development. Provided by Save the
Children. Documents the
neglect of chldren's interests in development planning and offers
Toward universal ratification: Only two more States to go !
February 14, 1998
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Oxfam America and CARE
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