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Needy Children Need You

On the day after Christmas, a woman gave birth to the first human clone -- or so a cloning company affiliated with a science-fiction-like religious sect claims. Skeptical scientists await confirmation from independent DNA testing of the as-yet-unseen infant, called Eve, and her unidentified mother.

The rest of us are left to wish that -- given the millions of unwanted or orphaned children here and abroad and the need for adults to adopt, foster or mentor them -- it was parents being “cloned.”

Just a week ago, on the day before Christmas, a man gave up his newborn son, leaving the infant at a hospital in Long Beach under California’s safe haven law.

Such laws, first introduced in Texas in 1999, have sparked controversy, although not as heated as in today’s debate over cloning. California’s version, enacted last year, allows any adult to anonymously leave an unwanted baby at any hospital or fire station within 72 hours of birth without threat of prosecution.

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Some conservatives argue that safe haven laws encourage abandonment. Some liberals think the laws don’t do enough to help troubled mothers. But anecdotal evidence shows that, when well publicized, they do what they were designed to do: save lives.

The laws are meant to give panicked, often teenage parents a no-questions-asked alternative to leaving their newborns in dumpsters or other unsafe places. Earlier this month, even with the new law, the body of an infant girl turned up on the Long Beach shore instead of a hospital. Another was found -- too late -- on a South Los Angeles porch.

Such losses have prompted Los Angeles County to step up efforts to publicize the law with billboards, bumper stickers and a toll-free, multilingual Safe Haven Hotline, (877) 725-5111, operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Once saved, these children and many more like them need families, or surrogates for families. The United States has more than half a million foster children, with 50,000 of them in Los Angeles County. Worldwide, the need is staggering. HIV/AIDS is devastating African nations, leaving millions of children orphaned.

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Adopting, foster-parenting or even mentoring a child is a huge responsibility. Those who can’t open their homes can open their wallets by donating to a favorite children’s charity or to The Times Holiday Campaign, which supports several nonprofit agencies providing housing, tutoring, life-skills training, substance-abuse counseling and other services for children and teenagers.

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Checks or money orders can be sent to the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign, File 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986, through January. Credit card donations can be made via the Internet at www.latimes.com/holidaycampaign. For more information about the Holiday Campaign, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.


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