Life in Zimbabwe is shorter than anywhere else in the world, with neither men nor women expected to live until 40, a new UN report says. Zimbabwe’s women have an average life expectancy of 34 years and men on average do not live past 37, it said.

The World Health Organisation report said women’s life expectancy had fallen by two years in the last 12 months. Correspondents say poverty because of the crumbling economy and deaths from Aids are responsible for the decline. Zimbabwean women have the lowest life expectancy of women anywhere in the world, according to the report.

It seems like it was just a week for news reports that stunned me. At first blush, my reaction was “Thank God things are so different over here.” Seriously, we are the wealthiest country on the planet. We have an enviable, though not perfect, health care system. We have the technology and resources to stave off disease and lengthen lifespans. Then I turn around and read this:

Hoosiers for years have been confronted with evidence that the state’s child protection system is broken. Indiana has averaged at least one death a week from abuse and neglect for more than a decade. Thousands of other children have lingered in foster care, shuttled from home to home for years. Caseworkers, mostly underpaid and undertrained, have been overloaded with investigations, increasing the odds they will either pull a child from a home unnecessarily or wait too late to intervene.

The study released Wednesday, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that Indiana’s rate of 4.81 deaths per 100,000 children was more than double the national average in federal fiscal year 2004. Indiana’s rate was the highest among 43 states and the District of Columbia.

I’ve got to wonder if our hearts, our consciences, have become too hard or cynical. We aren’t outraged enough over things like we ought to be. Statistics like this should sear our souls into action. We talk a lot about “the children,” but seem awfully inept about being able to safeguard them.

With all of our birth control technology before conception; with all of our prenatal care opportunities; with all of our health services; heck, with any kind or sense of community (from friends to church to other organizations) – this is a ridiculous state to find ourselves in.

Sometimes it has me wondering whether many people are ready to be parents. Being able to bump body parts shouldn’t be the only hurdle to being a parent. It’s nothing we could institute, but maybe there ought to be some sort of parenting classes, since apparently many of us are like chimps with nukes. Scratch that – the key word was parent. There’s a difference between being a biological donor entity and being a parent.

I have a friend who’s a new mom. Let me tell you, as a father of two, a first time mom equals “some neurotic woman you don’t remember marrying”. My friend read books, consulted doctors, clipped magazine articles, did Internet research before giving birth. Everything gets sterilized before coming near her baby. They didn’t go around crowds for months. People who coughed or sneezed within the previous few days were banned from the house. A poopy diaper meant bath time. Having gone through that phase myself, I knew where she was coming from. She took job seriously. From the moment she got pregnant–sure, she was a wife, a daughter, a friend, a car tech specialist–but from the moment that stick turned blue, she had one job: to be a mom and raise her child.

Having kids is serious business and somewhere along the line, I wonder if we’ve taken that for granted.

It’s an apples and oranges situation, I know; but right now, it’s all part of the same bowl of spoiled fruit.

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