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Crimes Against Children

Posted by John McDonough  December 16, 2012 09:23 PM

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In addition to the Newtown CT horror, this weekend I unexpectedly learned of two other instances of incomprehensible inhumanity to children. Contemplating all three puts Newtown in a different light:

First, on Friday morning, I heard NPR's Sylvia Poggioli report that for more than 40 years in Spain, between 1939 and the early 1980s, a secret network of Catholic nuns, priests and bebes robados.jpgphysicians, supported by the fascist government of Frederico Franco, abducted as many as 300,000 newborn infants from low-income and leftist mothers and sold them for adoption to conservative and church-going families. Here's a riveting BBC story from last year on the same topic.

As many as 300,000!

The birth mothers were told their babies had been stillborn, and caskets were filled with animal bones and rocks. Bebes Robados, or Stolen Babies, they are called; some call them Ninos Robados or Stolen Children. The scandal came to light three years ago after a former judge began investigating. Thus far, about 1,000 persons have gone to court to track down lost relatives. About 20 Spanish organizations have united to form "They Are All Our Children." Obstacles include the destruction of hospital records, as well as the legal ability of adopted parents to claim their adopted children as their own until 1970. Here's the story of one man who recently found his birth parents, 47 years later.

Second, last evening I watched a movie I'd never heard of -- Oranges and Sunshine -- the story of a British social worker named Margaret Humphreys who uncovered, in the early Margarate Humphreys.jpg1980s, the organized deportation of as many as 150,000 British children to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and elsewhere. Continuing into the 1960s, the children had been claimed by British family protective services. Birth mothers were informed that their children had been adopted and that they had no right to contact them. Many children were informed that their parents had died. In Australia, many children were sent to remote orphanages, often run by religious orders, where the children were subjected to years of forced labor and sexual abuse. Here's an Australian news account.

Home Children is the name used to refer to the forced child deportation scheme. Its roots go back to the 17th century when the British government sent poor children to work in the new Virginia colony. It spread to Canada in the 19th century. And it continued up until the 1970s. In 2010, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized to all the abducted individuals and their families on behalf of the British government.

I had never heard or learned of these shameful episodes until this past weekend.

Third, we come to Newtown -- the senseless shooting of 20 six and seven year old children and seven adults this past Friday at a Connecticut school by a 20 year disturbed man who first shot his mother with her semi-automatic weapon before driving to the school to kill the others.

On one level, there is no plausible association between the first two events and this weekend's crime. The first two were deliberately perpetrated by national governments as national policy, while the third was the senseless act of a deranged individual.

And maybe there is a connection.

Homicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10-24.  In 2007, there were 5710 gun-related homicides and suicides among young men between the ages of 10-19.  In 2010, firearms were the instrument of death in 85 percent of teen homicides and 40 percent of teen suicides. While non-firearm injuries result in death in only one out of every 760 cases, almost one in four youth firearm injuries is fatal.

Ezra Klein from Washington Post's Wonkblog has assembled an impressive and useful summary of data on mass killings.  Mother Jones Magazine has identified 62 mass killings in the U.S. since 1982, the vast majority of them committed with legally purchases firearms. 15 of the 25 worst mass killings in the world in the past 50 years were committed in the U.S.  Finland is the second worst, with two mass killings.  Of the 11 deadliest mass killings in the U.S., five happened since 2007.

Where does this leave us? While the Newtown murders were perpetrated by one disturbed young man, it's our public policies on guns that enabled this atrocity to happen. And if we are to eliminate the potential for these kinds of atrocities to occur, new public policies are needed. If the murders of innocent 6 and 7 year olds is not sufficient to change public attitudes on guns, it's hard to know what will. If we don't use new policies to address this, policies which have been proven to work, then we will see more and more of these mass shootings.

When will we have had enough?

The vast majority of the people of Spain and Great Britain had no idea what was going on in their names. Here in the U.S., as it pertains to our gun laws, we do know. As long as we don't fix them, we are implicated in these continuing crimes against our own children.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »


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