How can we justify child inequality?

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How big of a gap is there between the life of the poorest child in America and the average one?

Huge, it turns out. In fact, the United States is at the bottom of a list of 24 rich nations for child inequality--the measure of how different the lives of the poorest children are compared with average children, according to UNICEF's Innocenti Research Center.

We call ourselves the greatest country in the world, but Iceland, Hungary and Portugal, among others, are kicking our butts at taking care of our children.

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Circling the drain on child equality is us, Italy and Greece. Because of this, the report says, the children at the bottom will fall even further behind than where they started.

Take a look at these two stories. Jason is a 12-year-old boy from the Netherlands, a country that ranks near the top in child equality. In fact, in the category of health, the Netherlands ranks first in providing the most equal care for their poorest children as the average child gets.

Then, you'll meet Marcell, a 12-year-old boy from Camden, New Jersey.

What strikes me about Marcell is how aware he is of life's uncertainty. Most children I know hum merrily along with the idea that life will always be good because it always has been. But at just 12, Marcell has the wisdom of an old man, one battered by life's tragedies.

He's smart and eloquent. And yet he knows just one mistake can be enough to derail all your dreams. How does a 12-year-old get that way?

The statement at the end of the video really struck me: "The idea that inequality is justified as a reflection of differences in merit cannot be applied to children."

When we talk about welfare, unemployment benefits, public housing--really any social investment that goes to help poor families--we judge the worthiness of the adults who might benefit. But we often fail to see the children standing in their shadow who are poor not because they made mistakes, but because they were born into the wrong family.

I think here in the U.S. we're sort of resigned to the idea that that's just the way it is. But if this report shows us anything, it shows us that it doesn't have to be this way. That 12-year-old children can be poor and still have their basic needs met in a way that helps both them and the society that they will lead one day

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