Children in darkness. The exploitation of innocence. Readers respond. From June 30 to July 8 the Monitor published a five-part series entitled `Children in darkness: the exploitation of innocence.' The stories by Monitor writers Kristin Helmore and Sara Terry and photos by staff photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman told how children are exploited by adults as soldiers, laborers, and prostitutes in countries around the world, and how fledgling efforts have begun to help them. Below are excerpts from a few of the many letters from readers about the series.

The resolution of the appalling conditions facing children demands a long-term public commitment. Debates on such issues as child labor, child prostitution, children in war, street children, and child torture are just beginning to have an effect on a national and international level. International standards, such as a United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, will address many of these issues, but will be effective only if there is a strong children's lobby to hold governments accountable for their actions.

Defense for Children International was founded in 1979 - the International Year of the Child - for just this purpose: to protect the child from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Michael Jupp Executive Director Defense for Children Brooklyn, N.Y. International - USA

The Monitor's recent series vividly illustrates the need for prayer and action to bring the world's children out of darkness into light. For nearly 20 years I have been happily contributing to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) amounts equal to 1 percent of my annual taxes. These contributions are based on a useful principle others could easily apply, and, although the contributions are only mustard-seed in size, they represent the potential might of mustard-seed faith in all mankind and its various governing institutions. Larry Garges Bethesda, Md.

You've told us what, who, why.

You've given us an overview.

You've introduced us to solutions and problem solvers. You've introduced us to specific children; and you've brought them into our homes, hearts, intellects, communities.

I know the emotional toll for what you have done, and how tempting it is to stop being the reporter and, instead, be the active advocate. Or the policeman, prosecutor, or judge. Or to stop interviewing and start nurturing. But you went extra miles, and took your readers with you. Not easy when the subject is exploitation of children, and clich'es keep trying to substitute for reality. Certainly Ms. Freeman's photos brought both sensitivity and light to this dark corner of humanity.

What you have done is to bring a powerful laser-like beam of light exposing mankind's despicable use of children's innocence ... and where there's light, there's intelligence.

I'm enormously proud of you and of the Monitor. Cynthia Parsons Chester, Vt.

If the United States really wanted to stand tall, it could sponsor direct-action programs on the condition that the governments and elites do more to contribute. Squandering money on weapons and pouring more and more deadly weapons into the hands of third-world governments is no answer, either. It's one thing to be against abortions and another thing to deny women in the third world access to birth-control education and devices.

Once again, your series has touched my heart with its photos and stories of those poor children. I plan to show my classes the articles. David McLellan Prof. of Political Science Miami U Oxford, Ohio

I have this moment finished reading the first in the series. If ever a single issue of this newspaper had a profound impact on my thought, this was it. Much more than an emotional response to this problem of child exploitation is needed; but a sober commitment to enlightened thinking and consistent caring will awaken mankind's conscience. This is now top priority in my own ``agenda for the 21st century'' - beginning today. Margarita Thatcher Littleton, Colo.

Though your authors mention Children International, Guatemala's CHILDHOPE, and Bombay's CRY, they may not be aware of SOS Children's Villages, an organization begun single-handedly by Hermann Gmeiner in Austria following World War II. Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Hermann Gmeiner has left a living legacy of 250 SOS Children's Villages in 84 countries throughout the world, including Asia, South America, Central America, and Africa.

I learned that sponsoring a child is indeed a happy one-to-one relationship. But it is even more. To get to know the child is to get to know his SOS family, his SOS mother, the village director, and even the executive director of the New York office of Friends of SOS Children's Villages Inc. Lieselotte Mahler Schenectady, N.Y.

This series must be followed by another, exploring the solutions, the people, and the organizations who are forging the solutions, and most important, the role that individuals might play to support these actions. In the midst of great tragedy there is almost always an opportunity, and this part of your story has not been told. Jonette W. Christian Amesbury, Mass.

What has gradually emerged in my mind after months of thought was that these children require services akin to the special-education system in this country. Families would flock to bring their children to these settings if there were an economic incentive, such as the ability to earn a small wage.

The sheltered educational/vocational workshops could be partially self-supporting through sale of their products, thus relieving municipal and state government the unaffordable expense of totally subsidizing them.

The children could receive a basic education. And the organization and supervision of concerned professionals and other parties would be feasible and permit the grass-roots level of the individual existence at last to cross the abyss of isolation and distance to link up with the concerned observers of the great powers and international organizers.

It seems that how a society - or the world - treats its disenfranchised and weak citizens is a fundamental, direct indication of the moral health of a nation. In this respect, no thriving, developed nation can abdicate its responsibility to help the third world or its helpless citizens at home. Sara Drake Grayslake, Ill.

Your recent series with its powerful photographs was superb and memorable. In the final article, which mentioned some organizations working with children, you did not include one very remarkable charity - Sleeping Children Around the World, 28 Pinehurst Crescent, Islington, Ontario, Canada, M9A 3A5, which I first read about in the Monitor a few years ago.

Murray Dryden of Toronto started this charity some years ago after traveling in India and seeing children sleeping on the pavement. Through this organization, a contribution of $28 goes directly into bed kits for children, without any overhead. The funds are sent to the third-world countries in care of churches, Kiwanis, Rotary, Salvation Army, etc. These groups then pay local women to make the sleeping kits, which include (for example): a waterproof ground cloth, mattress, pillow, 2 bedsheets, 2 pillowcases, 2 pairs pajamas, blanket or mosquito net, plus a toothbrush and eating utensils.... Every year approximately 11,000 bed kits have been distributed in India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and other third-world countries. Elsa Martz South Harpswell, Maine

I am writing to salute your investigative reporters, your editorial staff, and you for the very recent series that you published and entitled ``Children in darkness - the exploitation of innocence.''

You should all be proud of an extraordinary piece of journalism that should serve to move everybody who reads it. As a former newspaperman myself, I can appreciate the exceptional commitment it took to pursue this project and delve into it with thoroughness and compassion. As the sponsor of the legislation now pending before the Congress, I am grateful for your fine work, which will be very useful in persuading the White House and doubters in the Congress that now is the time to take action to discourage child labor around the world.

Again, congratulations for demonstrating anew what quality journalism is all about. US Rep. Don J. Pease 13th District, Ohio

Your series featured a moving depiction of child labor in third-world countries. I lived in India for 15 years, and there is plenty of child labor. No doubt, some of it is horrendous. But I would argue that some of it is also both necessary and good.

Think of the child labor on our own family farms, for example. Who would disagree that such labor is both necessary for the farm and good for the child? These children are happier and better prepared morally for life than those children confined to our stultifying school system. This truth is only compounded in nations where children's income is crucial for the family's survival and where education is a complete waste of time and money for 90 percent of the poor.

We had better consider the full economic and social facts before we get on our moral high horses, further trampling on the poor. Herbert Hoefer River Falls, Vt.

Your appeal was couched in terms of an ``investment in the future'' - for others. Is it not also true that helping the world's children benefits us? To be cut off from that empathy leaves us in as great a darkness as it leaves them.

You also, by implication, identified governments and agencies as the sources of hope. But I entirely agree with Thai official Saisuree Chutikul [July 8] that these are essentially ``spiritual problems,'' and to problems like these governments and agencies have very little to say. More emphasis needs to be placed on values and concepts of unity, on how these are spread, and on other ways spiritual alienation and other problems can be addressed. Michael Nagler Professor of Classics University of California, Berkeley

May I just add the thought that human greed may ultimately be at least as responsible as family poverty for the exploitation of small children?

Greed is also very much at the heart of the mess that Cory Aquino has to face in the Philippines. As this letter is read, children are starving on the sugar island of Negros, where, formerly, millions were made by a handful of the local elite.

Your series needed to be published. Children really are in darkness. Alan Whittaker London The Anti-Slavery Society for the Protection of Human Rights

Having followed closely your fine series, our small, cash-poor charitable organization of dedicated volunteers is considering ways in which it can ``light one candle.''

Our expectation is that many others were touched and, most important, moved to do something. Thanks for opening our eyes! Tom Schaefer Chairman Servants of the Poor Odessa, Texas

The series failed to cover the world's most tragic and heartbreaking situation in Afghanistan.

In Afghan cities the Russian soldiers kidnap children from the streets, sending those as young as 14 years to fight their own people, mostly using them as living shields in the battle. They deport the younger children to Russia for communist indoctrination in tens of thousands for a period of 10 years....

Furthermore, each year thousands of Afghan children are blown up by the toy bombs that are planted by the Russian soldiers. Mohammad Raqid Brunswick, Maine

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