The vital importance of nationwide efforts to keep children safe in a world that may seem decidedly unsafe has been borne out over the last few weeks.
In Jackson Township, N.J., a 10-year-old boy, Eddie Werner, was killed while selling candy and wrapping paper door-to-door to raise funds for the PTA. In Waterbury, Conn., a 13-year-old, Stanley Edwards, was lured away by an older teenager and murdered. And another 10-year-old, Jeffrey Curley from Cambridge, Mass., was killed by two men who had befriended him.
"The exploitation of children is the most hideous, vicious thing," Jeffrey's father said.
Though serious reported crime in the United States declined in 1996 for the fifth consecutive year, according to FBI statistics, the violent death of even one child is unacceptable. Terrible instances of young people being snatched or lured away, often sexually molested, and killed are not unique to the US and are not limited to big cities. They are preventable.
All of us can do more to keep this kind of tragedy from happening. Stories in the Monitor and elsewhere have told of programs such as "Kid Watch" in Los Angeles, where volunteers agree to stay outside and keep an eye on children while they walk to and from school. Other organizations visit schools and talk with pupils to help them recognize and avoid circumstances that could lead to abduction. Experts say children can prevent potentially harmful situations by refusing to comply with the request or demand of a stranger. Force rarely is used initially in such incidents, they say.
What parents teach their children - and how they teach it - can make an enormous difference. As the program coordinator for a missing children's group said, "You don't want to have paranoid, scared kids running around" - but you do want them to be knowledgeable and alert.
And there is the protective power of prayer. Parents' prayers can defend their children, recognizing they're embraced in God's love, free from danger and fear. Such prayers help all children. Jesus told his disciples, "Behold, I give unto you power ... over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you."