Statement of Chairman Patrick Leahy Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations Hearing on Assistance for Children in Adversity

I want to thank Senator Landrieu, whose idea it was to hold this hearing, and I thank our witnesses for being here.

The fate of the world’s children is the responsibility of everyone. Today, in the 21st Century, it is appalling to consider how many children are born into lives of misery.

UNICEF’s 2013 State of the World’s Children report is due later this month, but the statistics available today show that in 2010 more than 8 million children died before the age of five, mostly from preventable diseases or complications at birth.  Some 20,000 children die needlessly every day.

At any given time, nearly 2.5 million people are in forced labor as a result of trafficking, and from one quarter to one half of them are children.  Even in the absence of trafficking, some 200 million children are forced to work to survive, half of them exposed to dangerous conditions. 

We have all seen the photographs of child refugees, child soldiers, child prostitutes, children scavenging in garbage dumps, children laboring in garment factories, children starving, children abandoned or orphaned by war or disease, children fending for themselves in a dangerous, unforgiving world.  It is heartbreaking to see. 

As much as we wish it were otherwise, this subcommittee does not have the resources to eliminate these problems.  In fact, the amount of funds we have for programs that directly or indirectly improve the lives of children in adversity is a pittance, measured against the amount of need.

But there are things we are doing, and undoubtedly more we can do to help developing countries care for and protect these children, by: 

  • improving public health and education;
  • enforcing laws against child labor; and
  • improving the capacity of governments to find suitable homes for abandoned and orphaned children so they do not remain on the street or end up in institutions where they are vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

Today’s witnesses can speak to this.

  • Leading off the first panel is Ambassador Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.  I have known Ambassador Steinberg for nearly two decades, and he is as dedicated to improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people as anyone I have met in Washington.
  • Dr. Neil Boothby is USAID’s Special Advisor for Children in Adversity.  He brings a wealth of experience to these issues.
  • Dr. Susan Bissell is Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF, which has a long history of global leadership on children’s issues.
  • Dr. Caroline Ryan, Deputy Coordinator for Technical Leadership at the State Department’s Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, will speak to the role that office is playing on behalf of children who are affected by HIV/AIDS.

For the second panel we will hear from:

  • Mr. Phillip Goldman, President of Maestral International;
  • Mr. Jedd Medefind [med EH fend], President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans; and 
  • Dr. Charles Nelson, Professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School.

Each of these witnesses has devoted their professional lives to the issues that we are here to discuss.  Thank you all for coming.

I want to apologize in advance that I cannot stay because I have to chair the Judiciary Committee which is continuing to mark up the immigration bill this morning.

But I commend the Senator from Louisiana for her leadership on this issue, which is important to all of us.

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