Today is Universal Children’s Day. The date was created in 1954 by the UN, but it seems to me that it remains fairly unknown to the public at large. Now, why do we need a day to celebrate the children of the world and to promote their welfare, you may ask? Well, as it turns out, children remain one of the most oppressed groups among humans: scores of children around the world are neglected, abused, and fail to receive schooling, proper nutrition, love and attention. Whenever things get rough, say during wars and in violent environments, children are typically the most vulnerable and thus the most likely to suffer. More generally, parents and caregivers experiencing hardship will have extreme difficulties in being adequate caregivers (it’s hard enough when things are fine!).
Why is it so? There is a rather simple biological explanation for why human youngsters are vulnerable: the human species is unique in terms of the number of years (relative to the expected lifespan for the species) that a youngster is deeply dependent on others, parents in particular (but not exclusively), for survival. The fancy word for this phenomenon is altriciality, and humans share this characteristic with many bird species, but not with our closest living cousins, the great apes. As with many birds, rearing a human child is such a tough job that humans have become a largely monogamous species, again unlike our ‘promiscuous’ cousins the chimpanzees; motherly care alone is not sufficient, so the involvement of the father in childrearing becomes vital (if nothing else, to provide for food even if he is not a ‘hands-on’ kind of dad).