Unequal Distribution of Resources: Giving Every Child A Fair Chance


Unequal Distribution of Resources: Giving Every Child A Fair Chance

Remarks by Leonidas Ortiz Losada, Priest of the Catholic Church, Executive Secretary General,
Latin American Episcopal Council – CELAM

At this IV Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), I would like to start my speech by reminding you that our religions and churches cannot entirely identify with the society they find themselves in. Nevertheless, most of the inhabitants of our countries are members of our churches, they profess the beliefs of our religions and practice the worship of God. Therefore, the problems that affect our countries directly touch upon the sense of responsibility of the religious traditions we belong to.

What unites us is faith in the Divinity1, love of life, the defense of human dignity, the option for the poorest and socially excluded, the incessant longing for authentic joy, the capacity to welcome others, and tolerance in our relationships.

For this reason, interfaith dialogue is a unique opportunity to cultivate mutual trust and understanding. In the Catholic Church, we consider that “Interfaith dialogue, beyond its theological nature, is of special significance to the construction of a new humanity: it opens new paths for Christian testimony, it promotes the liberty and dignity of people, it stimulates collaboration for the common good, it overcomes violence motivated by fundamentalist religious attitudes, it educates for peace and civil coexistence: it is a field of blessings assumed by the Social Doctrine of the Church (DA239).” Affirmations such as these can be found in the different religious traditions congregated here, encouraging their members to labor together for the benefit of society in general and for the glory of God.

Inequitable Distribution of Goods

In all our countries, particularly following the collapse of real socialism, an economic model deriving inspiration from neoliberal thought has become dominant. It is based on social, political and legal institutions that protect unfair distribution of goods, and supported by the technical mechanisms of the market economy. In this system, profit is the fundamental motor of progress, unrestricted competition is the supreme law of the economy and private property has become an absolute right.

This economic model focused on competition and profit gives the lead in the economy to the private sector; it promotes global economic growth concentrated in few hands; and it reduces the size and role of the State.

The Consequences of This System

It is significant that in the scene following the robbery and murder of the elders in the Faust2 by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, four decrepit women: Want, Debt, Need, and Care appear. These are the consequences of an economic model based on profit and the exclusive interests of the few.

In the end, Faust becomes alienated in the compulsive desire for unfettered progress, in the amassing of goods: “I did nothing but crave, and do things and want again, and this is how with strength I consumed my impetuous life”, he tells Care. And later addressing Mephistopheles, he orders: “Howev’r, where’er you may, Get laborers, heaps on heaps. Excite By threats, cajoling, extra pay. Each day I’d have the tidings brought me, how the trench is getting on, they’re digging now!” And Mephisto responds in a whisper: “Their talk to me, it is as if they gave, not tidings of a trench, but of — a grave”. And in that grave they bury Faust, not without first listening to Mephisto’s panegyric: “Him does no pleasure sate, nor gain content! From change to change his fancy ever went — there he’s he on the sand. The clock stands still.”

In the Book of Revelations, we are presented with this reality through the figure of the four riders: war, famine, disease and death. (Apocalypse, Chap. 6).

We live in the time of globalization. Late last century, there was talk of growing poverty. Currently, although there have been significant advances, we have to speak of misery advancing with great strides in certain countries, shutting out vast masses of the population from the benefits of civilization. “It is no longer simply a phenomenon of exploitation and oppression, it is something new: social exclusion. This affects the very root of belonging to society one lives in, because one is no longer below, at the fringe or disempowered, rather one is separate. The excluded are not only “exploited,” they are “scraps” and “disposable.” (DA 65).

Millennium Development Goals

Part of the same globalization process, the wealth controlled by the few and the number of people living in poverty grew, which led the United Nations to convene the governments and set specific goals in favor of those excluded from development. This empowerment process has undergone variations since the year 2000 when 193 U.N. member-countries agreed to eight development objectives, to be achieved within 15 years.

Objective 1 | Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Extreme poverty continues to be an everyday fact in these days of globalization: over 1 billion human beings are surviving on less than a dollar a day. Hunger and malnutrition do not reach this figure, but they are close: over 800 million people lack enough food to satisfy daily energy needs. Over one fourth of children under the age of five in developing countries suffer malnutrition.

The United Nation’s 2011 Millennium Development Goals Report, says, “Despite significant setbacks after the 2008-2009 economic downturn, exacerbated by the food and energy crisis, the world is still on track to reach the poverty-reduction target. By 2015, it is now expected that the global poverty rate will fall below
15 per cent, well under the 23 per cent target. This global trend, however, mainly reflects rapid growth in Eastern Asia, especially China.”

According to World Bank statistics (April 2011) regarding achieving Millennium Development Goals:

  • From 1981 to 2005 the percentage of people living in extreme poverty (under $1.25 a day) decreased from
    52 to 26% of the world population. The projection for 2015 is 14.4% of world population.
  • From 1981 to 2005 the number of people living in extreme poverty (under $1.25 a day) decreased from
    1,900 to 1,400 million. The projection for 2015 was 883 million.
  • From 1981 to 2005 the percentage of people living in poverty (under $2 a day) decreased from 70 to 48% of world population. The projection for
    2015 is 33% of world population.
  • From 1981 to 2005 the number of people living in poverty (under $2 a day) increased from 2.5 to 2.6 billion. The projection for 2015 is 2,036 million.3

World Bank figures present data for a very long period (1981-2005). Data has yet to be quantified from 2000 to 2011, which is when the country commitments started. However, there have been gains in the fight against poverty, despite the fact that research by the Global Hunger Index (GHI) shows that the map of misery continues to do severe damage in 29 countries, where malnutrition is killing over 2.2 million children a year.

Approximately 90% of the children with chronic dietary deficiencies live in Africa – mainly in Sub-Saharan countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Eritrea and Chad – in southern Asia (India), and the American continent (particularly Haiti).

The percentage of malnourished persons dropped from 20% in 1990-92 to 16% in 2004-06. The UN considers that the number of people going hungry has decreased from 1 billion in 2009 to 925 million this year. However, according to the new report, the index shows that some regions are still very complicated and that the causes of hunger in the world differ.

One of the problems the international community faces at the moment of performing an exhaustive study of poverty throughout the world is the dramatic situation in some countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan or Iraq, among others. “The estimate of the 2011 Global Hunger Index has some limitations due to data gathering by governments and international agencies,” there are some countries where they are simply not given, the report confirms.

There are two elements that contribute to eradicating extreme poverty: the principle of the Universal Destination of Goods, and rescuing the dignity of human beings.

In some of our religious traditions, one of the basic principles is the Universal Destination of Goods. Material goods, even when under legal possession, retain a Universal Destination. John Paul II said private property has a social mortgage.

On the other hand, we have to take into account that the greatest wealth of a country is its people. Julius Nyerere, one of the great leaders, not only in Tanzania, but in the entire African Continent, who will go down in history as the father of African Socialism, used to say that, “To measure a country’s wealth by its gross national product is to measure things, not satisfactions.”4 Therefore, when people and countries regain their dignity, they have greater possibilities of finding ways to overcome poverty.

Objective 2 | Achieve Universal Primary Education

Children have the right to basic primary education and to indispensible stimulation and recreation during early childhood. Education is access to God because it is access to the truth. Education is communication and participation, and it is a vital dialogue. God is word. God is dialogue. Negating, impeding or refraining from facilitating education for children is to frustrate God’s plan for each one of them.

The right to education is violated when children grow up in isolation, in environments that do not stimulate their senses that do not allow creative interaction with the environment, damaging their language, intelligence and affection.

Currently, 114 million school age children do not attend school; and, 63 million of them are girls. Additionally, 42% live in poor, conflict-ridden countries. Generally, being poor, being a woman, or living in a conflict zone increases the probability of not attending school.

It is true that, as the United Nations (2011) report says, some of the poorest countries have achieved the most noteworthy advances in education. Such is the case in Burundi, Madagascar, the United Republic of Tanzania, Ruanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo, which have achieved the objective of universal primary education or are about to do so. There have also been significant advances in Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique and Niger, where the net rate of enrollment in primary education grew by over 25 percentage points between 1999 and 2009. With an 18 point increase from 1999 to 2009, Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the best results.

In Judaism and Christianity, being educated in the Law of the Lord is a fundamental criterion in life: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Dt. 6:6-7)

In Hinduism, education is fundamental in raising a person, not only on the material plane, but also on the spiritual plane. Since its origin, cultivating knowledge has been elemental for a person’s development and liberation from the ties of the world (the ultimate objective of this tradition).

In the tradition of the Bahá’í Faith, universal basic instruction and education are clearly specified by law in their writings. Basic education is not only reading and writing; rather it includes the development of moral and spiritualcapacities, and instruction in sciences and arts from earliest childhood. The education of children is a sacred duty for parents. The work of teachers is considered a sacred act.

The purpose of education is essentially to bring to fruition the capacities and virtues in each human being and develop them through competences and skills to be put to the service of society. The education of boys and girls must be identical, but, in case there is a need to prioritize, the education of women and girls is necessary, because the benefits of knowledge can be transmitted more effectively and quickly through educated mothers.

Objective 3 | Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

The phenomenon of social, economic, cultural and religious inequality is also present in the field of men/women relationships. One of the Millennium Goals is precisely the promotion of equality between men and women, through a relationship of reciprocity and mutual collaboration. It is about harmonizing, complementing and working to join forces. Women are co- responsible alongside men for the present and future of our human society (DA 452).

At this time in human history, we urgently need to heed the clamor, so often quelled, of women that are subjected to some many forms of exclusion and violence in all its forms and at all the stages of their lives. Among them, the poor, indigenous, afro-descendent or native women have suffered a triple marginalization: being women, being poor, and belonging to indigenous peoples. It is imperative that all women be able to participate fully in family, cultural, religious, social and economic life, creating spaces and structures that favor greater inclusion (DA 453).

From our religious traditions, we are able to contribute to the achievement of this objective, beginning with greater openness within our churches. The greatest source of inspiration is rescuing the dignity of men and women by virtue of having been created by God, equal in their differences.5

In the Judeo-Christian Biblical tradition, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gn. 1:27). “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12).6

In the Hindu tradition it is said that, “Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards. (Manu Law). Furthermore, it is said that, “Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy prospers for ever.” (Manu Law).7

Objective 4 | Reduce Child Mortality

Child mortality is the most sophisticated indicator for poverty and inequitable distribution of goods. Throughout the world, and particularly in developing countries, millions of children under the age of five die every year. Infant mortality is directly related to easily preventable disease by means of vaccines or easily controllable respiratory infections, or factors arising at childbirth.

Additionally, there is the great tragedy of children who die without ever living. This is the silent death penalty for millions of children stemming from abortion that has become progressively decriminalized in our countries and has become an alleged “right” of women’s bodies, as if the child had no right to life, and as if the right to life were not the foremost among them. Maimonides phrased this as follows: “whoever destroys one life is considered as if he had destroyed the entire world, and whoever saves one life is considered as if he had saved the entire world.”8

In the last century and over the course of the new century, more children have died than soldiers and civilians in all the wars in history. Every year, over 8 million children under the age of five lose their lives, mostly to treatable diseases; as for mothers, half a million die every year at childbirth or during maternity.

This all takes place before an indifferent society, when there are so many low-cost technical means to prevent the death of children.

If the world applied the principle of prioritizing early childhood, and resolved to achieve Objective 4 in this proposal, at least 50 million children could be freed from death this decade at an estimated cost of 5 billion dollars a year, a figure that is lower than military spending in one day throughout the world.

It is so – as the United Nations Report (2011) states – that the number of deaths among children under the age of 5 has dropped from 12.4 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009. This means that 12,000 fewer children day every day. From 2000 to 2008, the combination of better vaccination coverage and the chance to receive a second vaccine dosage lead to a 78% drop in smallpox deaths worldwide. These averted deaths represent a fourth of the decrease of total mortality in children under the age of 5 (United Nations 2011).

It behooves us, from our religious traditions, to promote the defense of life, particularly of children, who are the most defenseless. In the Christian tradition, Jesus stressed the reception to be given children: “…took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, whoever shall receive this child in my name receives me: and whosoever shall receive me receives him that sent me.”9

Objective 5 | Improve Maternal Health

The health of the mother is fundamental. However, the best way to improve the mother’s health is to favor the health of the entire family.

Our religious traditions lay great emphasis on the value of the family as the sanctuary of life, as the educator of persons, as the educator in faith in the Divinity, as the promoter of development in society.

We receive life in the family, as well as our first experiences of love and faith. The great treasure of educating children in the faith consists in experiencing family life that receives faith, conserves it, celebrates it, transmits it and witnesses to it. Parents must be conscious of their joyful and inalienable responsibility over the comprehensive upbringing of their children.” (DA 118)

From our religious traditions, we have to unite to require legislators, rulers and health professionals to keep in mind the dignity of human life and importance of family in our countries, so that they defend and protect it. The health of the family is the health of the mother.

Objective 6 | Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases

According to the United Nations Report (2011), investments in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS are yielding results. Estimates reveal that in 2009, there were 2.6 million HIV-related infections, a 21% drop compared to 1997, the year that holds the record for new infections. Between 2004 and 2009, the number of people who received antiretroviral medication against HIV/AIDS multiplied by 13. In late 2009, in countries in the low and medium income bracket, there were 5.25 million people receiving treatment, which is an increase of over 1.2 million people since December 2008. As a result, the number of AIDS-related deaths decreased by 19% over that period.

The increase in financing and efforts to combat disease has reduced Malaria- related deaths. Worldwide deaths by Malaria have decreased by 20% from nearly 985,000 in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009. The most dramatic absolute decreases happened in Africa, where 11 countries reduced the number of cases of infection and deaths due to Malaria by over 50%. Due to the effective strategies against tuberculosis, millions of lives are being saved. From 1995 to 2009, 41 million tuberculosis patients were treated successfully and some 6 million lives were saved thanks to effective protocols for treating the disease. All around the world, tuberculosis-related deaths have dropped by more than a third since 1990.

Objective 7 | Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Defense of the ecology needs to be included in the interests of society, which demand full legal protection, beyond the scope of the law of any particular nation, because this affects the entire international community. Environmental wealth must not be evaluated as exclusive national patrimony to be disposed of arbitrarily, which is unfortunately the case, because the profit motive does not respect people’s habitat today or in the future.

In this regard, from our religious traditions, we need to devote efforts to the enactment of public policy and citizen participation to ensure the protection, conservation and restoration of nature; and, to determine means for measuring and social control of the countries’ enforcement of international environmental standards. (DA 474 d, e).

The Universal Destination of Goods requires solidarity with the present and future generations. Given that resources are increasingly limited, their use must be regulated according to the principle of distributive justice, respecting sustainable development. (DA 126).

Objective 8 | Develop a Global Partnership for Development

One of the Millennium Development Goals is acceptance of the fact that the fight against poverty is a collective enterprise, which should involve countries and all living forces in society.

What prevails today is an active solidarity ethic that is based on the principle of human fraternity and the Universal Destination of Goods, which should guide developing countries to progressively implement social justice, to revise equitable terms in the North/ South trade relations; to promote a more humane world for all, and to mobilize the community toward a more effective world solidarity.

The Contribution of Religions to Improve the Distribution of Goods

Religious traditions have much to contribute to improve the distribution of goods, in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, particularly as they apply to children.

The Biblical tradition common to Jews and Christians stresses the need to overcome poverty when it says: “However, there will be no poor among you” (Dt 15:4). And, “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother.” (Dt. 15:7)

Additionally, a discreet way to help the most needy is noted: “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger.” (Lv. 19:9-10)

However, it is the prophets that most clearly present the meaning of Distribution of Wealth among the poor: “And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Is 58:10-11).

In Islamic spiritual tradition no one can be allowed to go hungry. It is a serious crime to overlook helping the needy. Therefore, “Nor did he advocate the feeding of the poor. Consequently, he has no friend here. Nor any food,” (Quran 69,34-36). On the other hand, aid that is given expects no reciprocation: “We feed you for the sake of Allah alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks” (Quran 76,9).

One of the five pillars of Islam is zakat.10 Meaning “purity,” it is a form of mandatory annual tax that needs to be offered to the community for a more equitable redistribution of wealth. The act purifies wealth from worldly glory and channels it toward eternal reward. It corresponds to a rate of 2.5% of the goods one possesses. Zakat has several purposes: it helps limit the accumulation of wealth, purifies the soul of greed, helps the poor and needy, encourages the spirit of solidarity in community life and support for the creation of works to benefit the public such as schools or hospitals.

Additionally, in order to prevent paternalism, the beneficiaries of Zakat are mainly people that are not able to insure subsistence; or people in debt who are unable to meet their obligation; or Muslims that are far from their homes and have no way to return.

Zakat is intimately bound to the prayer that is recited five times daily called salat, and this way there is a close link between individual action in favor of the community and the Divinity. In the Quran they are mostly referred to together.

In Hindu tradition, no ritual is complete if it is not complemented with charity. Therefore, charity is not only a form of help for the most needy, it is also a form of spiritual revival. Charity is part of the natural mental tendency of the majority of Hindus. It may be that each one has different motivations according to their degree of awareness; even so, charity is present.

In the Buddhist tradition the concept of charity, particularly in its Grand Vehicle doctrine (Mayahana) and with its more active conception of benevolence (mairtri), occupies a very important place among the great religion. This quote should suffice: “There is nothing more powerful than mairti. Hatred has never extinguished hatred. Benevolence has extinguished hatred. This is eternal law.

In Buddhism, when talk revolves around greed and generosity it states: “The wise say that he who hoards millions and being profoundly attached to wealth, is incapable of giving it away, he is the poorest in the world. The wise say that a man with no possessions who is always willing to give what he has, he is the noblest, and the richest of the earth. (Ratnakuta Sutra).

According to Buddhism, the true cause of poverty and hunger need to be sought in the minds of the people and not in the outer world. The roots of poverty are greed and covetousness, and these are based on a state of inner poverty. It is this inner poverty that needs to be eradicated to put an end to suffering insatiable hunger and thirst.

It is also right to remember the religious philosophies of Confucius and Lao-Tse, although due to different reasons, they have proclaimed the principle of universal benevolence and complete unselfishness.

In Conclusion

These reflections are just a motivation, from our respective religious traditions, to contribute to a more just distribution of goods, thus guiding our resources and capabilities to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

This network of religions has commitment to the world. It is about giving children a fair chance through comprehensive human development. Our beliefs inspire us to build a more just society. Our religious practice leads us to act quickly and efficiently in a world marked by indifference. Only then can we change the terms of relationship that our present day globalized society moves in, to create a reality which Julius Kambarage Nyerere wanted for this beautiful country that welcomes us:

“The aim of socialism in the United Republic of Tanzania is to build a society in which all members have equal rights and equal opportunities, in which all can live in peace with their neighbors without suffering or imposing injustice, being exploited, or exploiting, and in which all have a gradually increasing basic level of material welfare before any individual lives in luxury.”11

If we end poverty, we enrich children.

1. Hinduism Says: “God is one, but the wise call him by different names” (Rig Veda).
2. Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend; a highly successful scholar, but also dissatisfied with his life, and so makes a deal with the devil.
3. World Bank 2011, Global Monitoring Report 2011: Improving the Odds of Achieving the MDG. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTGLOMONREP2011/Resources/7856131-1302708588094/GMR2011-CompleteReport.pdf
4. “To measure a country’s wealth by its gross national product is to measure things, not satisfactions”. (Julius Kambarage Nyerere, from his book Uhuru na Maendeleo)
5. At a time marked by male chauvinism, in Christian tradition, the decisiveness of Jesus’ practice noting the dignity of women and their worth is undeniable: He spoke with them (Ref. Jn. 4:27), he showed unique mercy to sinners (Ref. Lk. 7,36-50; Jn. 8,11), He healed them (Ref. Mk. 5, 25-34), He defended their dignity (Ref. Jn. 8, 1-11), He chose them as first to witness His resurrection (Ref. Mt 28, 9-10), and He included women in the group of closest companions (Ref. Lk 8, 1-3). (Ref Aparecida Document 451)
6. The Talmud says: “A man without a woman is doomed to an existence without joy, without blessing, without experiencing life’s true goodness; a man should love his wife as much as himself and respect her more than himself.” (Talmud, Yevamot62b)
7. In the Manu Law, the value of women as mothers is underscored: “A master is more venerable than ten instructors; a father more so than a hundred masters; and a mother is more venerable than a thousand fathers.”
8. Maimonides, Mishnah Torah 12:7
9. Mark 9,36-37. In Deuteronomy, it says: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Dt 30:19).
10. The Five Pillars of Islam, according to Sunni tradition, are witness of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage Mecca.
11. “The objective of socialism in the United Republic of Tanzania is to build a society in which all members have equal rights and equal opportunities; in which all can live in peace with their neighbors without suffering or imposing injustice, being exploited, or exploiting; and in which all have a gradually increasing basic level of material welfare before any individual lives in luxury”. From a speech written by Julius Kambarage Nyerere, The Rational Choice given on 2 January 1973 in Khartoum.

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