A lawsuit filed earlier this week in the US shows it in chilling detail: The dehumanization of asylum seekers and migrants is routine in detention camps—and it doesn’t spare children. According to these children, guards shout at and threaten toddlers and babies; there is often not enough to eat, and clean water is harshly rationed. Children are crammed in sleeping areas too small for everyone to lie down, without blankets, in cold rooms where lights blare 24 hours a day, and frequent check-ins interrupt what little sleep they manage. Girls receive one sanitary pad per day during their periods, left to bleed through their pants and wear soiled clothes.
It’s in line with the directives of a government intent on turning cruelty into policy: Only weeks after it confirmed it would not give flu vaccines to families at border camps, the Trump administration quietly suspended (pdf) delayed repatriation for severely ill children. America, in short, is ready to deport children with cancer.
Inhumanity, it seems, is contagious. In Italy, babies and children have been repeatedly kept at sea for days by a government that fears—hates, even—migrants, no matter their age. In Turkey, authorities are cracking down on the Syrian refugees that Europe didn’t want. Globally, more people have been forcibly displaced from their homes in the past five years than at any previous time in history, and more than half of the world’s 26 million refugees are children. Many are met with systematic dehumanization coupled with apathy in the places where they hoped they would be safe.
This suffering cannot be blamed on politics alone. There’s a silent majority that is allowing it to continue—not protesting, not calling our representatives, not taking to the streets. Hundreds of millions of us who keep going about our days as if children weren’t being treated as less than humans in our own countries. There’s a word for this: complicity.
This essay was originally published in the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief newsletter. Sign up for it here.