Thursday, November 25, 2004

The worst of parenting

Sometimes I wonder at what are considered priorities in this world. If you want to open a new bank account, or apply for a government loan, or do something equally mundane like that, there are half a dozen criteria you have to meet before your application will even be considered by the bank or the government department. There's no end of red tape involved.

And yet, there are no rules, no criteria, no basic minimum requirements to be fulfilled for someone to do something as momentous as having a child. A 14-year-old who deliberately gets pregnant is allowed to keep her child because she "wants" one. Is a child a doll or a plaything that a pre-teen can be allowed to have just because she wants it? Pro-life/anti-abortion people will probably come out with a resounding "YES", but unless they can personally guarantee that every accidentally or irresponsibly conceived child can and will be brought up without lacking for anything, I think they should shut up and mind their own business.

It's all very well to say that there is foster care or orphanages for abandoned or unwanted children - but we all know how well THOSE work, most of the time. There are children who are prescribed therapy and psychological care because they're stressed out by school, or because the family moved home, or whatever. And these are children with a supposedly stable family and financial structure, who lack for nothing in the way of love or care. If even such children can be stressed by perfectly normal circumstances, what about the mental and emotional health of those children who have been abandoned, who've never known what it is to have a family, who are subject to whatever treatment is meted out in foster homes or orphanages? Is there an army of psychologists lining up to offer THEM therapy? In the main, I dont think there are, or will ever be.

Okay, I've wandered right away from what I originally set out to write about! What I meant to say was that quite a few adults should be proscribed from parenthood, never mind pre-teenagers. Neglect, cruelty and malnutrition (especially with regards to children) are endemic in India and other third-world countries. But poverty, ignorance and overpopulation play major roles there. There simply isnt much choice for the poor, despite the help provided by the charities and social workers. That, of course, is no excuse. It's merely the explanation for conditions being what they are.

But when you hear of something like that happening in a western country, it's all the more reprehensible because there is plenty of support from social services, government and from private organisations - especially when it comes to children. AND you cant claim ignorance or lack of education. The latest abuse story from Sheffield is a case in point.

David Askew and Sarah Whitaker, both 24, were found guilty of having starved and neglected their FIVE children, almost to the point of death for one of them. The children were apparently living in absolute squalor - animal and human excrement smeared on their bedroom floors, urine-soaked mattresses, rubbish all over the place, etc. The oldest of the children is just 8; the youngest are 12-month-old twins. A doctor who treated the twins said it was the worst case of malnutrition he had seen outside of the developing world.

The cinching factor that this neglect was deliberate - the couple's living room was spotlessly clean and furbished with the latest in hi-tech leisure equipment - two DVD players, a big-screen TV, a Sony PlayStation and stereo as well as dozens of DVDs, video games and more than 100 CDs. And yet they were sentenced to only 7 years in prison.

What are the odds that they will be out in less than half that time for "good behaviour", having demonstrated "sufficient remorse" to please some bleeding heart judge, and demanding to be reunited with their beloved children? I wouldnt place any bet on it, that's for sure.

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