In the mountain highlands of Papua New Guinea, travelers report, a hundred-foot banner was stretched across an isolated village's road last year. It proclaimed the International Year of the Child.
In the United States and scores of other countries during 1979, the welfare of children was thoroughly examined by parents, teachers and concerned specialists and was the subject of special discussion by newspaper and television commentators.
What has been learned during this year-long exercise? And what might be done to improve the livelihood of children?
The final report on the year's activities in the US was issued to President Carter April 21 by the National Commission on the International Year of the Child. Among the commission's observation:
* Only 7 percent of American families fall into the category of a breadwinner father and a homemaker mother with two or three children.
Yet, says the commission's report, social policies are designed almost exclusively with that family composition in mind. This, says the commission, creates serious problems for the vast majority of American families. a more flexible approach is needed.
* Children of minority populations are at a glaring disadvantage in the US. They suffer from much higher childhood mortality, much more poverty, and complete fewer grades in school than their counterparts, the commission says.
Recommended is more up-to-date information on minority groups, greater respect for the contributions and strenghts of minority families and communities , and unity among minority groups which are advocating improved policies for minority children.
* Family support services such as the extended family, community centers, ethnic and religious programs are not exclusively for families who have "failed" at meeting the needs of their children. these services, says the commission, should be broadened to focus on prevention of problems rather than being strictly crisis-oriented.
* The juvenile justice system should be reformed to become more "just, rehabilitative, and supportive," and a model code for juvenile justice should be drafted.
Children should not be drawn into the system prematurely or without sufficient reason, says the commission. The report found evidence of promising new programs in youth services, such as drop-in centers, host family programs, and child care switchboards.
* Unlike most industrialized nations, the commission says, the US has not adopted across-the-board health care for all children. It recommends "federal initiation of a universal and comprehensive maternal and child health insurance plan, covering full costs of all aspects of care"; greater emphasis on health education in schools; prohibition of the export of unsafe products or substances to other countries; and inclusion of "more representatives of the health professions and informed parents and youth" in planning programs.
dozens of other recommendations were made, including a national policy on television programming and advertising for children, renewed commitment to equal educational opportunity for all children, and stronger foreign aid to benefit the world's children.
The commission's report may be the most comprehensive profiles of current thinking about America's children yet compiled, say observers.
"The International Year of the Child was only a beginning," explains Jean C. Young, wife of the former US ambassador to the United Nations and mother-of-four who chaired the commission. "It tapped a great many new resources which will be significant in the future formulation of national policy for children and families."