Leading article: An appeal to help the children

There is an old cartoon which shows two red-nosed gents filling a shopping trolley with alcohol of all descriptions. "Christmas is a time for the children," one says to the other.

At The Independent, we are pursuing the notion rather more soberly: our 2011 Christmas Appeal is raising funds for three different charities, all of which specialise in working with children.

Save the Children works in 120 countries around the world to protect children from harm, to help them get an education, to fight for their rights and to give them an opportunity to fulfil their potential. The Rainbow Trust provides emotional and practical support for families who have a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness. And the Children's Society provides vital support to vulnerable children and young people in England.

We don't just want to ask you to donate money. We also want to let you know more about the important work these organisations are doing to help a group which is one of the most vulnerable in any society. At a time when most of us will be showering our children with love and presents, it is salutary to remember that – in the world's poorest countries, but also here in Britain – children are among those suffering the most from severe poverty, serious illness, abuse or neglect.

In this newspaper in the coming days you will read of children who have never seen a doctor in their lives; of a boy who cannot be left alone for 10 minutes because he so often stops breathing; of girls accused of witchcraft and ostracised; of children left isolated and ignored when a sibling succumbs to a fatal illness. We will publish accounts of girls who drop out of school because of religious prejudice; of boys who are bullied into running away from home; and of a family preparing for what they know will be their child's last Christmas.

Thankfully, most of us will never need to turn to any of these charities ourselves. But there are many more who have no such happy accident of birth. We hope that by telling you some of their stories, you will be inspired to give generously to help them.