Montana Viewpoint

December 26, 2005

Children needn’t bear the brunt of society’s ills.

So often, when I see children together I wonder what it is we have against them.

Last night my wife and I watched a video called “Born into Brothels”; it’s a story about the children of prostitutes in Calcutta, India. As you might imagine, it wasn’t a lot of fun to watch, but it brought home to me, once more, the realization that whatever evil there is in society, it is the children who suffer for it—mere victims of circumstance.

As one of the kids in the documentary said, “There is nothing called ‘hope’ in my future.”

It was a documentary by a photographer interested in the “sex trade” in India. It’s not much different than a slave trade; families sell their children into prostitution. Children of prostitutes become prostitutes before they are teenagers.

To gain access to that closed, sordid, and suspicious enclave, she began to teach photography to a small group of ten to twelve year old kids. She saw amazing promise in those children, and worked to get them out of the ghetto by finding boarding schools that would accept them. It was difficult, but an easier task than getting their families to agree to let them go.

Of the eight who got into school, only a couple were able to stay, but they now have a future in their hands that is theirs to control.

A few years ago I was with in Shanghai with small group of legislators on a privately-funded international fellowship. We visited a school for children of migrant factory workers, and there the kids sat, all of eight years old, on benches in a barren room in front of computers learning English.

They crowded around us, laughing and touching us, asking for our autographs and souvenirs. They were at that age, innocent and open, when the world and their fates lie before them.

But as I looked at them all I could think was, “When you look at children, who can think of war?”

When I go to visit schools in Montana, I see the promise in each and every child, and wonder if we will let it be fulfilled. Where I live there are few meaningful jobs for them to look forward to, and for many of them a college education is unaffordable.

We have it in our power as individuals and as a society to give those children a good life. Do we care? If they were all our own kids, I bet we would.

In the Montana legislature, as in all legislatures, there is a lot of action around special privileges for certain groups and tax cuts for certain industries or individuals, and lots of talk about how these favors will eventually benefit our society.

“Pie in the sky, by and by,” it used to be called. There is no immediacy to it, no action to put money or energy into what needs fixing now and what actually can be fixed now; just a vague promise that this will lead to a better life for people.

Well, that’s nice. Meanwhile, children are going hungry, living in cold houses because their parents can’t afford to heat them, or living in no houses at all because their parents can’t afford rent, either.

That can be fixed now. There is neither reason, rationale, nor right for us to put tax dollars into tax cuts for the wealthy or subsidize international business conglomerates under the guise of a “better tomorrow” when children need a “better today.”

Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-444-1556
Mail: State Senate Helena, MT 59620