The World Youth Alliance in Manhattan is celebrating this weekend the projected birth of the seven billionth person on earth, set to occur by the end of the month. It’s a big deal among the population-control hangers-on at Turtle Bay, where the United Nations is located in New York. The WYA birthday party is but a candle on its theme of the year, “Population and Economics: Investing in the Human Person.” WYA founder and CEO Anna Halpine talks with me about why the baby is a boon and the dignity of it all.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why does the U.N. care so much about the seven billionth child?
ANNA HALPINE: Many in the U.N. seem afraid of this seven billionth child. There is worry that more children, represented by this seven billionth child in particular, will be a drain on resources, lead to less sustainability, increase food and shelter shortages, and contribute to the propagation of poverty. There have been the beginnings of a realization, however, even within the U.N., that this seven billionth child is a child to be welcomed and celebrated, and that each child brings an unlimited potential for creativity and contribution to the world in which we live. We are delighted to see the beginnings of this type of reflection, and this is certainly the reason why we will be celebrating the arrival of this child!
LOPEZ: How could you celebrate such a milestone? I get you’re pro-life and all, but you’ve been stuck in traffic in New York. Maybe there are too many of us!
HALPINE: Children are not the problem! Traffic jams in New York are most often caused by the visiting dignitaries of the U.N., and never by the young people and children who come to the U.N. with their schools! Children represent the hope for the future, and the creativity and talents that will continue to grapple with the problems we are all facing. Even in situations of dire poverty, children are not the problem. They are often the consolation of the poor, who are often in desperate situations due to corruption and mismanagement. In many families, all over the world, children are both the impetus and the reason for families to seek to find a way out of poverty. Due to the sacrifices that families will make for the education of their children, children often become the support of parents who have given everything to enable the flourishing and development of that child’s talent. We have to be careful not to blame the poverty, corruption, and mismanagement into which some children are born on the children themselves!
LOPEZ: So children at all costs? In refugee camps? In poverty? In sickness and in health? Do these women (and families, if she’s not alone as a pregnant mom) have support in the farthest reaches of the globe?
HALPINE: The celebration of the child can take place even if the circumstances into which a child arrives are not ideal. When children arrive, we believe they are always a blessing, always a sign of hope for the woman and the family to whom they are given. Even in refugee camps, even in poverty, even in sickness and in health. Our task is to be creative enough, generous enough and welcoming enough to see this child not as a threat, problem, or additional burden that cannot be borne, but to put the time and resources necessary into supporting the women and families who need support and care to bring these children into the world, and to provide them with the resources necessary to enable the flourishing and development of that child and family.
In looking at broader problems, such as endemic poverty or the vast slums in certain areas of the world, it is inaccurate and dishonest to think that what is most needed is to prevent the births of children to the women in these slums. The slums represent a failure of urban development, or the integration of refugees, migrants, and workers into their local economy, and often indicate corruption and mismanagement at the local and national levels. The children in these slums often arrive as a light in the darkness, bringing love and giving love, affirming the humanity of each and every person who is struggling in that situation.
LOPEZ: Why is the population control so wrong and yet so powerful?
HALPINE: Population control gives multi-billion dollar agencies, NGOs, and governments the control and decision-making power to decide who will have children and who will not. It is an absolute violation of the dignity of the person to deny individuals the freedom to self-determine and to do so because they are poor and vulnerable. Population control is fundamentally elitist, as it denies the freedom of the poor, abrogating to the state the ability to determine how many children the poor and vulnerable will have.
Population control is a powerful concept because it offers a simplistic solution to obvious problems we face in the world today. It is attractive because it enables sophisticated, successful people to create conditions in which they can manage the decisions and lives of the poor, who seem to be in chaos. This denial of human freedom, however, denies the fundamental humanity of the person, and restricts social flourishing and functioning to what can be managed and controlled by existing elites. As we have seen with totalitarian regimes which control social and economic forces, this claim to efficiency stifles human creativity and always leads to the abuse of human rights and the violation of the dignity of the person. This presumed efficiency has not worked; on the contrary, population control programs are not correlated to successful economic and social development. Nevertheless, no policy can ever be justified which requires the violation of the dignity and freedom of another person.
LOPEZ: Every time I go anywhere near there, the United Nations seems stuck in the seventies — from architecture to ideologies. Is there something to that? Is this the latest evidence?
HALPINE: The U.N. is a big bureaucracy, and moves slowly in all areas! Evidence-based responses, which recognize the latest science and evidence are not often the drivers of policy statements and claims at the U.N. The current alarm at baby seven billion reveals this trend; demographic information makes it clear that the real alarmist population trend is one of decreasing fertility, and a world which is rapidly set to depopulate itself. Now, more than even, children are a necessary resource which we need to celebrate and care for as each child is of critical importance in continuing to meet the goals of social development to which the U.N., and many others, are committed. Rapidly decreasing birth rates are leading to the calamitous situation in many countries of a declining population prior to the development of an educated, economically stable situation. In many instances and countries our clear need is for more, not fewer, children.
LOPEZ: How important is culture in promoting/supporting human dignity?
HALPINE: Culture is an indication of the values of a people. In looking at human development it is clear that culture, by providing the higher claims to which a group of people commit, is the single most important factor in both economic and social development. Culture is thus critical in the support and affirmation of human dignity. A culture which is ready to deny the dignity of the person for short-term gains of any sort (economic, military, environmental, social) is a culture that has already violated the moral basis on which it is built. If the dignity of each person is not inviolable and protected, then the dignity of all people is at risk. Cultural transformation begins with a recognition of the inviolable dignity of each and every human person.
LOPEZ: I saw the World Youth Alliance was recently celebrating an embryo ruling from the European Court? Why should Americans care about such a thing?
HALPINE: The recent ruling of the European Court which recognized that human life begins at conception is an important ruling within international law. It recognizes the scientific and philosophical reality that a new individual human life is brought into existence at conception, and that life has an inviolable value. World Youth Alliance applauded this decision of the European Court, which was finally given after years of deliberation on a case against human patenting of stem cells brought to the court by Greenpeace, which was concerned about the ethical precedent of providing patents on human life. The court ruled in favor of this intuition of Greenpeace, recognizing that no company can patent human life; that to do so is a violation of the dignity of the person, and that the only non-arbitrary way to deny such experimentation and patenting is to recognize the inviolability of the dignity of each human person from the very first instance of human life — conception.
This affirmation in international law is important for Americans, as international law is increasingly a reference point for juridical interpretations at national levels and institutions.
LOPEZ: What’s the good news about the youth of the world if one can dare to approach such a sweeping question?
HALPINE: There is lots of good news about the youth of the world. At the World Youth Alliance we have the great privilege to work with young people of enormous generosity, who are excited and willing to put their talents at the service of the human person, and ready to work together to build societies that respect and affirm the dignity of each and every human person from conception to natural death. They are willing to do the long, hard work of changing hearts and minds through policy and careful study of current debates, in building alternatives to current programs that violate the dignity of the person, in working directly with the poor and marginalized, and in celebrating and building up a stronger cultural foundation in each of the communities in which they live. They demonstrate that the task of freedom, which must be defended and faced by every generation, has as many willing members today as ever before.