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The Independent Online
Suffer the little children. And try to get it into one column or less. Here's Zara Albright on the front page of Saturday's Times, gazing into her mother's eyes: " 'Untouchable' toddler is given all-clear to go home." The story: Zara has spent two years in a sterile room after being diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome, but, thanks to bone marrow transplants, is about to go home to her loving parents.

You should weep. The Times wants you to. But you know you've read the story before, seen the picture too, and a hundred variations of it. Like "little Spencer Williams" in the News of The World, posing for that other archetypal kiddie shot: with grinning celebrity Dan Falzon from Neighbours, who's helping raise money for the brain-damaged four- year-old so he can get treatment in the US (treatment in these stories is always in the US because ... well, because).

But, at least we're talking upbeat, about things that respond to treatment. The Sunday Times: a snapshot of three Chinese toddlers, unfortunate enough to have been born girls, strapped to a filthy potty bench, "wasting away in 'dying rooms' ", rank with the smell of gangrene, screaming if they have the strength. Turn the stomach, then tug the heart. Turn to page 25; an American couple are fighting to keep their adopted daughters - see them caught laughing - from being returned to their Native American tribe, because despite caring for them since the day they were born, the girls are one-sixteenth Dry Creek Pomo and ... enough.

There's no escape. The Sunday Telegraph gives us an updated Madonna and child ("Karen Daire with daughter, Isobel, whose cancer was diagnosed at an early stage") and a message to haunt: "Red hair links young cancer cluster victims." Down page there's the smiling photo: "Rowan Simpson, who died last July." Below that, another headline: "Children risk death from burger bug." ... On and on.

It's a dangerous world when you're small and weak. Here's your helpless, homeless face staring out from the Observer. Page16: "Taking cover: children in Kwazulu/Natal, where violence has displaced thousands." Page 19: "Prisoner of war: a girl stands against a wall pockmarked by bullets in Sarajevo." It almost makes you look upon the NOW's zoom-lens centre- spread of Diana and Charles and Harry and Wills with fondness, if only because it's so rare - so strange - to see children be cherished. But the Observer's 20-page special, "Childhood: An Innocence Betrayed", arrives next Sunday, so we'll soon be back to normal.

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