"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members," so said spiritual leader, Mahatma Ghandi.
If that is so, the U.S. has a lot to live up to.
This report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 90,000 infants are maltreated every year in this country. About one of every 43 infants is in danger, mostly during the first week of their lives.
Maltreatment includes neglect as well as physical abuse, though the majority, 68.5 percent of the cases, involved neglect.
Blood tests taken in the hospital seem to suggest that babies, whose needs are not met in the first four days of life, are likely victims of maternal drug use, according to the report.
Neglect can also include abandonment and a failure to provide food, clothing, housing and inadequate medical care, which could be a result of a lack of insurance.
About 13 percent of the newborns experienced physical abuse such as
beating, kicking, biting, burning and shaking. While the researchers weren’t looking for fatal abuse, 499 babies were killed in maltreatment cases in the year surveyed.
"We certainly were distressed" by the study's results, said Ileana Arias, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control who told Associated Press, "It's a picture you don't want to imagine — that this number of infants is being mistreated.”
This is the first report on the maltreatment of U.S. infants up to one year of age. Data were gathered from October 2005 to September 2006 from child protection agencies in 45 states. Maltreatment data were gathered from medical personnel, family, friends, law enforcement and social workers.
Because it is the first of its kind, there is no way to know whether the trend is increasing or decreasing.
Among racial divisions, more than 39,000 of the infants were white; 23,000 were black; more than 17,000 were Hispanic; slightly more than 1,100 were American Indian with .6 percent Asian.
Rates of child maltreatment in Canada appeared to be similar to what the CDC is seeing, says epidemiologist Rebecca Leeb.
Among week old babies, slightly more boys than girls had experienced physical abuse.
Those babies who survive are expected to have health and mental problems.
"The findings do demonstrate a clear pattern of early neglect and physical abuse that is largely preventable," Ileana Arias, who heads injury prevention efforts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters.
David Finkelhor, who directs the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire said though it is difficult to draw any conclusions from the numbers presented, more prenatal care and drug treatment services would help address the problem.
Maltreatment is the third leading cause of death in U.S. children under the age of three.
The research was published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. #