Much progress has been made in helping newborn children live past their fifth year. In 1960, roughly 20 million newborns died before they reached that milepost; in 2006, the number of deaths had dropped to 9.7 million. That's cause for gratitude, but the writers of a UNICEF report, "The State of the World's Children 2008," are calling for a further reduction in mortality – to less than 5 million by 2015.
The writers cite the first of eight United Nation's Millennium Development Goals as an essential part of the effort to reduce child mortality. It is to "eradicate extreme poverty and hunger."
Poverty is often represented as lack of money, work, food, and so forth. But it can also be seen as present good obscured, concealment of resources right at hand. Death rates among very young children are highest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, perhaps because of war and instability and a divisive environment. Even if children are valued by their families, to a government they may seem like a statistic or even as a burden, not the little child we see playing next door.
Perhaps a truer way to see them is as modern-day representatives of the children Jesus spoke in defense of when his disciples tried to "shoo" them away from the Master. The Bible says he was "much displeased" at their attitude and said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science and founded this newspaper, loved children and she also was a deep, spiritual thinker. In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she commented on the nature of the kingdom of heaven, which she described as the "reign of harmony in divine Science; the realm of unerring, eternal, and omnipotent Mind; the atmosphere of Spirit, where Soul is supreme" (p. 590).
At first it may seem impossible that children could contribute to such a kingdom. Yet their joy, purity, innocence, spontaneity, love, and goodness are all qualities of that kingdom. And in the realm of "omnipotent Mind," they can be seen as expressions of divine intelligence and wisdom.
These qualities alone should be an incentive to lower a mortality rate so great that it constitutes the population of a major metropolitan area. Few people would willingly give up joy, purity, or innocence. Nor are those qualities limited just to children. Yet in a mental environment where children aren't valued, there is also a failure – however subtle – to honor those spiritual gifts, which are so often identified with young people.
In our prayers, then, one thing we can affirm with conviction is that they are a needed part of the world because in an ultimate sense they are God's creation, His children. Individually, they are representatives of Mind, and so have intelligence and goodness. These and their other qualities have value to our countries and to the world. Intangible as they may seem, when put into action, wisdom, love, and intelligence can provide solutions to the world's intractable problems. These and other qualities expressed by the world's children are as precious a resource as light, water, and air.
One other point that the UNICEF report made was that nations need to unite to work together to solve the problems afflicting children. If all nations could see their young people as valuable resources, as blessings not just to their parents but to their communities and nation, their futures would be secured.
Our prayers, recognizing the value of children, embracing those in need in our thoughts and affirming their spiritual value, help everyone, especially the children. They can also change our world – and theirs – for the better.