WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu on Tuesday led a congressional hearing on “Assistance for Children in Adversity” as the federal government continues implementing its first-ever “action plan” to assist struggling children worldwide.
The federal “Action Plan on Children in Adversity” launched in December with the support of several federal agencies, the Peace Corps and more to offer aid for children with HIV/AIDS, children orphaned by war or disaster, child soldiers, children taken in human trafficking and more.
The program will initially focus on six nations that will be selected soon. Most of the talk Tuesday focused on sub-Saharan Africa.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations, joked that Landrieu, D-La., was assertive in asking for the hearing. “She’s subtle that way, but she’s always right,” he said.
Some of Landrieu’s top pet projects include foster care and adoption issues.
“The best and truly only form of protection for children is a strong and nurturing and supportive family,” Landrieu said. “I’ve often said if you want to get rid of traffickers, then put every child in the arms of a powerful father and mother. The traffickers will never get to them.”
Landrieu called the action plan an “unprecedented” step forward that is supposed to focus equally on “strong beginnings — keeping children alive and giving them the chance to thrive,” putting “families first,” and “protecting each child from violence, abuse and exploitation.”
But she also argued that, in her opinion, the available federal resources do not offer enough support for the “family” aspects of the plan.
“Millions of children are currently growing up in orphanages, on the streets, in refugee camps, as asylum seekers or stateless persons — uncounted, recognized and unhelped,” Landrieu said.
“For U.S. citizens, this is a moral issue,” Leahy said. “We live in the wealthiest, most powerful country on Earth.”
Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, said the federal government can help a great deal with medicine, food, shelter and education. “But for children to thrive, we have to go beyond that,” he said.
Medefind agreed that the top goal is to keep children with their biological families or at least in their own country. “But living in a broken world, that is not always possible,” he added.
Nearly 18 million children worldwide have lost both their parents, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, called UNICEF.
Donald Steinberg, the deputy administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, noted that his agency and UNICEF launched a “child survival revolution” nearly 30 years ago.
At the time, about 15 million children a year died before age 5 from common preventable diseases, Steinberg said. Now, that number is down to about 7 million, which he said is still a “shocking figure.”