Cuba’s low infant mortality rate of 4.6 per thousand live births, is one indication that children’s well-being is a top priority

INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN’S DAY
Children, a priority in Cuban society

Lisanka González Suárez

THE current situation of children in the world is worse now than in 1925, when International Children’s Day, June 1, was established in Geneva. Since then, hundreds of thousands of minors have died of hunger, cold, thirst, or curable diseases, some of these deaths not reported to the governments responsible. Figures in the UNICEF annual report “The State of the World’s Children,” reveal that more than 20,000 children die every day from preventable causes, and that, at the end of 2012, 200 million children worldwide were affected by malnutrition.

However, during 2012, there were other causes of infant deaths: wars using weapons of mass destruction, genocide or terrorist acts where children died alongside their families in cities that had become battlefields, in schools and hospitals converted into military targets, in churches; in markets… They were hit while playing, sleeping, attending a party, praying, without even realizing they were in the sights of a conventional weapon or a drone flying through the country’s airspace.

These acts are not only taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Palestine, Pakistan… They are also occurring within the United States, where the government calls itself a “champion of human rights”, as was the case in Connecticut, to cite a recent massacre, where an adolescent randomly opened fire on young schoolchildren.

There are other variants. What is International Children’s Day for children imprisoned in Iraq (in almost 200 in 2006, according to a report from the Prisoners for Justice Association, some for more than two years, without contact with their families or lawyers)? The dreams of this generation have been destroyed.

There are also those who, ironically luckier, are forced to fight in wars, become prostitutes, rummage in garbage dumps, work like animals, or live on the streets… The UNICEF report indicates that child prostitution and pornography, street children, and trafficking of organs removed from children who have been duped or kidnapped, and later murdered, far outnumber the worst and most horrifying experiences.

All of this is taking place in the world at this moment.

CHILDHOOD IN CUBA

Cubans do not have to be concerned about their children’s safety, accidents or sudden and unavoidable illnesses excepted. While certain organizations deliberately conceal Cuba’s low infant mortality rate and other indicators confirming the high priority given to the country’s youngest generation, thanks to the established public health service, free and accessible to all, 2012 ended with an infant mortality rate of 4.6 per thousand live births, the lowest figure in the whole of the Americas. In five Cuban provinces the figure was even lower, including the central province of Sancti Spíritus, where it was 2.8.

Important institutions such as UNICEF do acknowledge this fact. Juan José Ortiz Brú, UNICEF representative in Cuba, recently stated that Cuba is a good example – which should be replicated – of achievements and quality in the enjoyment of children’s rights. He noted that, as well as the political will of the state, the commitment of society as a whole has played a part in this undertaking, despite material difficulties, adverse climatic conditions and the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States.

Miguel Llivina Lavigne, head of the UNESCO Latin American and Caribbean Regional Office, praised the Cuban education system and the positive results of this and other projects in the country, affirming that they provide a positive reference point for the rest of the world.

Cold figures conceal much effort, obtaining resources often difficult to come by and personal sacrifice, particularly when one compares them with the same source, which indicates that in Third World countries, 130 million children do not even have access to basic education.

An example that comes to mind: Alejandro Fabían, a nine-year-old chess player, who had the good fortune to be born in Cuba, and the privilege of living in a beautiful area of the Escambray mountains in Sancti Spíritus province, where, prior to 1959, many years before his parents were born – as in the majority of the country’s abandoned rural communities –there was no electricity, no vaccination campaigns for poor children with bellies swollen by malnutrition, no schools – not to mention buses, so that they would not have to risk life and limb on the mountain roads. A place where there were no latest editions from the International Book Fair, no television, and where no tourists ever appeared to admire the beauty of his home, making him affirm that he will never leave it.

I also think of all those living on this vilified and maligned island who, despite having been subjected to over 50 years to a genocidal blockade with all the economic difficulties that it entails, with its still existing errors, inequalities and problems, children have been, are and will continue being society’s greatest priority. | Granma International

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