FIGHTBACK: Children Here and There

by Sylvia Weinstein

You can know a country by the children-the way it treats them and the way it wants them.

Recently, in Houston, Texas, the city put up a billboard pleading for mothers not to abandon their babies. It reads, ” DON’T ABANDON YOUR BABY! Take your child to an emergency medical technician at a fire station or hospital. call (1-877) 904 -SAVE.”

The reason for this unusual billboard is that by September 1999, a total of 13 babies had been discarded in 10 months. Three of the babies were found dead.

“I don’t think we know enough to say why this happens,” said Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for the federal Administration for Children and Families. “This must be the most extreme act a person can take, to leave a child in a dumpster or public park.”

One of the mothers was a 15-year-old high school student who dumped her dead newborn infant in a high school trash bin. She has been charged with murder.

Where were her parents, or counselors, or people who cared for her? Someone must have known she was pregnant-who did she have to confide in? Who could she have turned to for help?

While the federal government tracks statistics on so-called “boarder-babies”-children left in a hospital maternity ward by drug-addicted or HIV-infected mothers-it does not keep data on discarded newborns. Why? Would the numbers of abandoned infants be an embarrassment to the richest country in the world?

Just recently we have received word from one of the smallest nations, which is not rich and is currently under the fist of the world’s richest country. How are their infants doing?

On Dec. 27, The New York Times reported in a dispatch from Cuba that the infant mortality rate in Cuba, which already had one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, fell even further in 1999.

Health Minister Carlos Dotres said that the infant death rate had fallen to 6.5 deaths per thousand from a rate of 7.1 per thousand the previous year and 11 per thousand a decade ago.

Free health service for all, a rarity in Latin America (it doesn’t exist in the United States), has been one of the main features of President Fidel Castro’s government since the revolution in 1959.

Cuba currently has 3140 medical personnel assisting international organizations in 58 countries around the world, including the poorest regions of Central America, the Caribbean and Africa. Some 447 Cuban medical workers are in Venezuela to help the flood-ravaged nation.

Cuba offers a free medical education to 1912 students from 18 countries in the region at the new Latin America School for Medical Sciences in Havana.

Now we come to one of the great crimes of the United States, that of kidnapping a six-year-old Cuban child after his mother took him in a boat bound for the United States. The child was the only person to survive the trip, after he was rescued by a U.S. helicopter from the waters off Miami

He was then given to relatives in Miami, and the U.S. government has refused to return him to his father in Cuba

His father, both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles and thousands of Cubans have requested his return to his family in Cuba. Rallies have been held all over Cuba demanding the return of Elian Gonzalez.

Elian talked to his father over the phone: “When are you coming here?” his father asked. “I will be there in a few days when my vacation is over,” Elian said, and then he started crying.

This country has enough shame on its shoulders-do not bring more by keeping this child away from his family. He has a right to grow up in a country that cares for its children. That country is Cuba.

Related Articles