Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Murder of Innocence

October 2013 has found us with a barrage of media highlighting the loss of innocence in South Africa. There has been the conviction of a couple for the rape and murder of their baby “Samantha”, children raped and murdered by a community member and left in a public toilet, a mother who allegedly poisoned her children and herself and her children and multiple abandonments with the intention that children die and many did die. These are the cases the media know about. We also met with students from Forensic pathology who highlighted that there are between 300 and 500 unnatural baby deaths in the Johannesburg mortuary per year and only 10% of those are investigable!

We live in a society where we acknowledge that we are a “throw away culture” and we are literally “throwing away babies”. If we are unable to afford children their first right ie the right to life, what of their other rights? We bring children into a world where on arrival their arrival they are not wanted and often hated, used, hurt or murdered.

If I we say this is a loss of innocence, there is the loss of the actual innocent child but there is also the loss of the innocence of our society at large. We, like a baby, look at the world with hope and wonder and see a future. We bring children into a world where we want to share the joy of what life can be. We see the media and shudder, what we have done?
For those who hurt and kill babies, and as a result
 the innocence of our society, we as a society must have killed their humanity when they were children. To be human is to be cared for so we can care. If we murder, we must be dead inside. We, as a society raised these murderers we are so enraged by. We see communities respond decisively with rage at the death of innocence and these acts of commission are deserving of rageful condemnation. What we seem to be missing is that it appears that the acts of omission, or the neglect of childhood, results in a adults who are capable of the destruction of innocence in rage or in total absence of any emotion, the latter being the more terrifying.

How do you teach the uncared for to care?

Compassion in Child Protection

When looking back at the year thus far it has become clear that all that is worth doing takes time and requires stamina, strategy and courage. We are still fighting the paralysis of a system that designed its laws to ensure children’s rights were met in South Africa, but unwittingly created a series of barriers to services based on the flawed human interpretations and applications of this law. It appears that the age old Hegelian Dialectic has come into play and in our zeal to ensure rights are not abused we have lost sight of how best to protect them.

The thesis was that we need to sign the convention on the rights of the child, ascent to the African Charter for Children, draft a Constitution and then laws to enact these. If this was done successfully children would be safe and have their rights upheld. We did this but,

The antithesis was that we tied humanity up in litigation and lost This child for The children and what has become abundantly clear is that legislative reform is not enough. Transformation of people is what is needed. Ultimately all those who implement law are people first and people play roles that define their identity. The role of professional seems to have become paralysed, or poor performance excused, by law. We have law, all this shows us is that we cannot behave humanely unless threatened.

So what is the synthesis, humanity! There are three premises to successfully protecting children:

1.      The recognition that there is suffering in the world
2.      The negative duty to not add to that suffering and
3.      The positive duty to alleviate the suffering where you can.

On reflection this seems a simple request, it calls for us to be kind. Why is it then so hard to achieve.
        i.            We know there is a recognition of suffering as this is bemoaned every day in the media, at dinner parties and in our work in the non-profit sector.

      ii.            If we did nothing to harm children as a collective, they would be safe!

    iii.            But we need to actively protect because there are many who actively hurt or through acts of omission allow for children to be hurt.

How do we explain why some hurt children? We refer to psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, evolution etc. Theories abound as to why we raise adults who either do not protect or actively hurt children. In my mind, however, none of them suffice as the sum of the parts never appears to make up the whole. Bad childhoods, poverty, trauma, poor attachment, genes etc., have all been used as a way to explain asocial behaviour. What appears to be missing is that there are many, and even potentially a majority, who have had the same experiences and overcome those experiences to live by the mantra “it ends with me”. The cycle can only end if we are aware there is suffering and NOT wanting to inflict that on the other. Others, often wounded healers, have chosen to actively take the hurt and use it to heal. How is this done?

I want to leave you with a thought; it is relationships that are “good enough” and the ability to choose another path because someone opened it up for you. So we want to make a difference in the life of a child. When I am asked what makes a difference in the life of a child?

It is everything! As a result we need many strategies and often ones that do not rely on law or a solution but on an alternative experience of a caring and consistent adult who is authentic and congruent. This is only achieved if we remember our humanity and filter all of our professional work through one question “would I expose my child/family to this?”. Sadly, many professionals in the child protection system would answer no. The implication is that we have created a distance between our work and our humanity and that is why we are failing so dramatically in protecting our children by not being able to protect their right to nit be harmed that would be realised if we did nothing!

People vs Politics in Child Protection

My reflections on the previous quarter were positioned around the fact that there are real challengers in the child protection field at present. In stark contrast the end of June saw the Forum engaged in a three day Child Protection Conference under the banner of The South African Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (SAPSAC). The theme of the conference was “Back to Basics” and to essential role of the Multi-disciplinary team in child protection. I was called on to assist in developing the programme and briefing the speakers. We had over 300 delegates from all over the country from most disciplines ie. Social work, psychology, medicine, SAPS, prosecutors etc. What struck me was the unwavering commitment by those present to do the correct thing in each of their disciplines to ensure children are protected both from abuse as well as from the potential secondary trauma of exposure to the system itself. The presenters were all given case studies to apply their mind, theory, law and practice to and what became evident is that we have many of the structures, laws, resources etc. in place to manage cases effectively if we work together. The calibre of the presenters was exceptional and it served as a reminder of what is possible if we all meet the child protection week mandate to work together to protect children.

So why then is there such a gap between what is possible and what is!

It appears it is humanity and the fact that we have lost the rage of injustice to the meritocracy of political correctness and replaced the position of people in the forefront of our minds with the print we see on paper. A mouthful indeed, but that too seems to be part of the problem, there is a whole lot of talking, corresponding, meeting etc., and too little work on the issues faced by children directly. We are all too often caught up talking about “the children” and we forget “this child”, we are paralysed by the “best interest” principle and no longer use our common sense to do what is best for children. We have become so professional that we no longer love children, we work with them.

Until we connect with the child we once were, we will forever loose the children that are.

Children remember not what you do for them but what you make them feel.

We want to make a difference and we do, what kind of difference is it?

How are we shaping up in our quest to protect child rights

I am often called on to speak to a variety of sectors on issues of children’s rights in South Africa and do this with great pride. The reason for my proud pronouncements is that I have been a part of the human rights based culture in South Africa that has become such a beacon of hope across the world as we attempt to redress the abuses of the past. We have signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the African Charter on the Rights of the Child and have our own Constitution that enshrines these in Article 28. In enacting these rights for children we have recognised that some of these rights are to be granted now and others must be realised progressively. It is at this point that it seems we stray and forget it is us who are raising children and we remain responsible for their well-being. How have we strayed? It seems in two major areas:

1)      We constantly talk of the need for children to be responsible as if we merely give them rights, they will become uncontrollable by us, and yet it is us who are raising them. A case in point is the right children have to be protected and not to be abused and we place this responsibility in the hands of children. They must say NO to us, rather than telling adults they must not harm children. While doing this, we in no other way encourage children to say no to either adults or those in positions of power. There are clearly certain rights afforded to our children that are solely the responsibility of adults and should be given now and not progressively. For me the fundamental right under review here is the right to protection. We, as adult and children, all have a negative duty to realise this right for children, ie we do not harm children. However, as adults, and particularly child protection service providers, we have a positive duty ie. To actively protect our children. Protection can take many forms, but its enforcement is in the law. This brings me to my second point. Those mandated by the law to act within this sphere.
2)      It appears that as the laws have developed and the statutory social workers and police officials, who have legal authority, have engaged with the law, they have become gatekeepers to the courts and make decisions that are on behalf of the courts. Cases in point are our attempts to present evidence to the Children’s Court to decide whether children are in need of care but the social workers have decided they are not and then when they decide the children are in need of care suddenly the children are not in their mandate. Politics trump professionalism. We then move to children who have managed to access care but are the “released” contrary to, and in contravention, of our laws. All of this in a misguided homage to the less than perfect ideal of “Family Preservation” now acknowledged on our law. We then move to the SAPS who refuse to open sexual abuse cases where the accused is under 18. This is a convenient ploy to decrease their crime statistics, as per their mandate, and use a good piece of legislation that should open services for children at risk ie. The Child Justice Act. Finally, there is just an apparent lack of interest and will as is evident in the child kidnapping case where the Investigating Officer did not present any of the medical evidence on the docket to the prosecutor. This is the evidence for the caregiver who the accused attempted to murder as she tried to protect the child. What is the result of this going to be, even when before court without evidence we cannot have either convictions or appropriate sentences?

The question then becomes, have we legislated ourselves into immobility and in pursuing rights are only paying lip service to children’s rights? Adults still exert a careless and even abusive role in children’s lives. What is even sadder is that those mentioned above are those charged with the active protection of children and their access to justice. Systemic abuse comes from “evil flourishing when good men do nothing” and when they do act do they consider the most fundamental of caregiver codes “first do no harm!”