Will America Stand Up for Children?

A Message From Diane Whitehead, Executive Director, Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI)

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 “Children should not, and must not, be used as pawns in political games.”

Over the past few days I have shared email exchanges and phone calls with colleagues around the world who are utterly distressed and dismayed over the actions taken by the United States’ Trump Administration to separate children from their parents as they cross the U.S. border from Mexico. It is a very difficult moment indeed, as these actions can in no way be explained or defended.

Contrary to popular belief, the United States of America does not have a perfect record in its implementation of a comprehensive human rights-based policy agenda for its citizens. There have been many shortcomings on this front, including its refusal to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, there has always been hope in America that this relatively young nation would continue to evolve in its understanding of the connection between the humane treatment of people and a fully functioning democracy. Many nations, therefore, have looked to the United States for leadership on such issues and the United States has stepped forward many times, with both individuals and other nations, to decry inhumane actions occurring around the world. 

So how does a nation who has been respected for its fundamental understanding of human rights drop to such a low point that it is separating children from their families and placing them in detention camps? This is indeed hard to explain, other than to say that a significant lack in the current moral strategic direction of the United States has led to much narrowed aspirations about being a society based on human respect and decency. The desire to win—in this case, win the ability to build a wall between Mexico and the United States—has created a serious and tragic circumstance for innocent children. The bottom line is that children should not, and MUST not, be used as pawns in policy games.

Many nations have immigration concerns and regulations, but these can be enforced in humane and appropriate ways. The actions being taken at the U.S. border are an atrocity that will have long-lasting and serious negative effects on the lives of thousands of children and their families. These cruel actions will also impact the standing of the United States as a world leader, as it will be very hard to erase this poignant moment from U.S. history. Across the United States, the federal government is currently responsible for the care of more than 13,000 migrant children in shelters spread throughout the nation, including the 2,500 removed from their parents over the past five weeks. The rest are young children who came across the border alone seeking safe refuge and a better life.  Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to house more than 20,000 migrants on U.S. military bases. It is unclear yet who will be held on the bases, but it is a logical assumption to think that many will be children.

As we listen to the cries of young children who have been pulled from their parents’ arms and look at the endless rows upon rows of tents that make up these internment camps, it is hard to believe that this is the United States of America. 

Please America, please stand up for children! They are our future and we need to respect and nurture them, no matter their race, ethnicity, or citizenship. One day they will lead our world. They will determine the future of our humanity. What type of leaders do we hope they will become? What type of world do we hope they will create? America, the entire world is watching and judging. It is your time to decide who you are as a nation and what you value. Are you a nation that values basic human rights for all people? Do you have compassion for innocent children? The recent action of the United States to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council only creates more worry and concern that America is falling further and further behind on its foundational philosophical promise to uphold the principles of universal human rights.