Friday, October 24, 2008

Collective responsibility

There is something about being a mother that means any cases of cruelty or neglect of children make me feel physically sick. I was always horrified before I had Eve, but now it hits me in the pit of my stomach. I feel the parental bond, the vulnerability of a baby, and all the possibility of the future life of a person so acutely now that I simply can't understand how anyone can do anything but nurture a child.

My mum used to be a magistrate in one of the more deprived boroughs in London and sat on the family bench for many years. During this time she saw some of the most horrific cases of child neglect that one could imagine. It was her responsibility, and those of her fellow magistrates, to decide when things had got so bad that for the safety of the child it would be better off apart from its parents. Occasionally she was called at short notice to issue an emergency care order (sorry Mum if I recall the terminology incorrectly) because something so awful was going on that the child had to be immediately removed from their home and she would need to very rapidly review the case and make a decision. She never told us anything about the cases she saw, but I can only imagine how hard it must have been seeing what people can do to their children. At least she could make a difference and I like to think that there are some adults out there who are alive and healthy because of decisions my mother made that kept them safe. She would then come home to her two daughters and our safe and loving family life - I don't know how she switched off.

Reading the BBC online news tonight there was a story of a 16 month old girl whose father had put her over his knee and beat her so hard that he broke her spine and she died as a result. When the paramedics arrived they found her lying just in a nappy on a bit of plastic at the entrance to the living room. She was, the report said, seriously dehydrated, malnourished and covered in bruises and breaks from previous beatings.

I cannot understand how anyone could do this to any child, how anyone could do this to something so obviously defenceless and small.

And I am appalled that there must have been people, doctors (her mother was 12 weeks pregnant again), neighbours, friends, who must of seen the signs and done nothing to protect this small person.

Without wanting to sound sanctimonious, every child is so incredibly precious that it made me cry when I read the story.

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