Good Morning everyone. It is always such an honor to be given the opportunity to speak here at UUFD. I want to start by thanking the program committee for inviting me to share today, and extend my thanks to Jean, Tom, Bob, Amy and Marian for helping make this service happen.
Here in the United states, each year, millions of us gather around our TV’s to watch the State of The Union address. Steeped in fanfare and pomp, the President of the United States of America speaks before a joint gathering of the two chambers of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as representatives from the five (now six counting the newly created space force,) branches of the military and the 9 members of the supreme court. It’s all very exciting and every news network broadcasts it and weeks afterwards there are debates and broadcasts about the speech’s accuracy, relevancy and vision.
There is another annual event that takes place each year however that garners much less attention and yet, It’s contents are essential for the world to move towards justice, peace and equality. What I am referring to is the Annual report given by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. Published each year in June, the report lays out everything that has happened globally in the lives of children and what the world needs to do provide a better future for the children of our globe.
While the 2020 UNICEF report will not be published until June of 2021, On this last Sunday of the year, I wanted us to take some time and look at the numbers we do have regarding the health and well being of children. Think of this then as less of a reflection, or a sermon that I normally give, and more as a State of the World address, giving us the knowledge we need to be honest about the changes that have to happen in the coming year.
First: let’s discuss illness. At the forefront of everyone’s mind of course has been the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are many aspects of the Pandemic that have adversely affected Children, the actual virus itself has had a very low kill rate among children. Globally, over 1.6 million people have died of the disease, with less than 35,000 of them being kids. COVID has however, created a storm in the lives of children that is wreaking havoc.
With the focus on COVID being what it is, money and effort to combat other deadly illnesses had to take a back seat. Because of this, there has been a rise in deaths caused by other illnesses. For example, in this year, 274,000 children under the age of five died of Malaria. Diarrhea, another preventable sickness, mostly caused by a lack of clean water, killed 525,000 children under the age of five as well.
Pneumonia is also a major cause of death in kids, accounting for 15% of the child deaths this year, reaching almost 900,000 kids 0 to 18.
It’s not just illness that is killing kids however, Malnourishment has been a huge issue in 2020. Because of Covid-19 and the economic downturn world wide. The number of people living below the international poverty line, which is set at $1.90 a day rose, by 150 million people this year, bringing the grand total up to 715 million. Because of schools being such down, it is estimated that there are now 370 Million children who are now missing lunch daily, 36 million children who are malnourished and in 2020, 6.7 million children starved to death. 45% of all deaths in children this year under 5 are indirectly connected to malnourishment.
Violence is also having a huge impact on children, something that has also seen an increase in 2020. To date, there are now an estimated 30 million children displaced by war. There is no way of knowing exactly how many children have died this year in conflicts such as the wars that are ragging in Yemen, Syria, Myanmar, Sudan and Ethiopia, numbers suggest that thousands, if not tens of thousands of children have been killed. Turning to violence in the home, it is believed that well over 1 billion children have suffered direct, physical violence this year and at least ten million children are currently held in slavery throughout the globe, being used in forced labor and sexual exploitation.
Education is another arena where 2020 has been a rough year for kids. At the high point of the COVID crisis, 91% of the schools in the world were closed. 31% of school aged children live without access to internet or broadcasting capabilities to continue school at a distance. While the numbers are not in yet, it is believed that gender equality could be set back by 25 years because even though school are reopening, girls are not returning to school at near the rate boys are, meaning for many girls world wide, 2020 is the last year they will attend school.
As Unitarian Universalists, we talk a big game. We tout our 7 principles of dignity, respect, inherent worth and interconnectedness, we use reusable grocery bags, show up to protests and give money to NPR during their fundraisers. All in all, we are pretty cool people with some pretty cool ethics, but our story this morning is a reminder to us that early on new year’s morning, a child is going to die cold, hungry and alone. She will be the first of the new year but she will not be the last. Millions of children will die of preventable diseases, from lack of nutrition, from abuse and exploitation and wars fought over oil, gold and religion. May we not be like the people on new year’s morning that cried they should have done something, anything, to help the child now dead in the streets. May we be people who do all we can to protect and defend our children to bring us closer to the day when such horrors finally come to an end.
May it be so. Amen.