IF the justice of a cause, rather than the prestige of its sponsors, were what wins public support, the leaders of 70 nations would not have been compelled to gather in New York last weekend to throw their collective weight behind the World Summit for Children. The presence of one hungry child should have been sufficient. The sorry, by now familiar statistics were recited again. Every day 40,000 children die in the world, from hunger, from dehydration - for reasons that are largely preventable and cheaply so.
Once more the host nation stood rebuked for allowing one American child in five to fall below the poverty line. New York, the host city, qualifies as a third-world country: a child born in Bangladesh runs a better chance of reaching the age of five than a child in Harlem, according to public health officials.
Why is it necessary to repeat this litany of shame over and over again to ourselves? Because nothing much changes. In the United States, taxpayers' money divides this way: $9 for a Congress member's lunch; $3 for a prison convict's lunch; 59 cents for a child's school lunch.
The deplorable inattention to children's basic rights is publicly noted - yet goes on. Despite the good intentions of world leaders attending the summit, no one was willing to pledge fresh money to end the infanticide-by-neglect of the very young - a commitment that could cost $20 billion a year until the end of the decade. But the world is willing to spend $2.5 billion a day on armaments. The American tobacco industry spends the same amount on advertising in a year.
What is being requested for children is scarcely more than what is afforded to domestic animals - food, water, shelter, and rudimentary health care, including a freedom from battering.
If asked which is our most precious resource - children or oil wells in Saudi Arabia - who would not answer the world's children? The World Summit may constitute the most emphatic statement in history of the minimum that nations must do for their children in order to be called civilized. The pieties are not in danger - the children are. It is long past time, as one delegate remarked, to cease the rhetoric and ``do the do-able.''