My right to abuse my children?

It’s soapbox time I’m afraid as I get on my hobby-horse about a few things all inspired by this report I read today. Take a moment to read it now and then come back to me:

Police find 18-month-old girl locked in dog kennel and two toddlers naked and neglected. Father arrested.

This report stirred up many conflicting thoughts in my mind, I have to tell you, and rather than finish the short story I had intended to share today I thought I would share these thoughts instead. When I think of this story and then of the things happening in Bangladesh and in Britain I find myself very confused.

Let me explain.

The right to hurt others

Of course, I am horrified by what this man has done and was doing to his children. The thought of his child crying, cold and scared in the streets just fills me up with tears and with anger. I find myself thinking “people like him should not be allowed to have children”. I end up concluding that the politically correct brigade that have demanding ‘parenting classes’ for those deemed to be poor parents are correct. I begin to think that people should be screened before being allowed to be parents just to stop this kind of thing happening.

But then I horrify myself with what I am thinking and how I have suddenly allied myself with the very ideals I oppose the most – the ones that say the state and the Government should control our every thought and action.

The fact is I do still have the right to become an abusive parent. That’s what having a free society means. Until I’m caught, like this man, in the illegal act itself and can be tried before a court, I have the right to choose to be like that. If, tomorrow, I wake up and decide I will stop being the loving father I’ve tried to be and, instead, become an abusive one no one can prevent me from making that decision.

And I thank God I do have that right.

Not, of course, because I want to hurt my children in any way. I love Thing I and Thing II so much it hurts me sometimes and I cringe with self-loathing whenever I shout at them for not tidying their room – let alone ever contemplating physically hurting them – or locking them in a kennel in their own filth.

No, I am thankful I have that freedom because if I lived in a state system where the authorities could decide on my behalf whether I was fit to be a parent or not then I would truly be living in a system where I was no longer human. Unfortunately too many people live in just this position whether it be their own Government or a local ruling group that can decide to shoot you in the head on your way to school because you dare to disagree with them.

Safety in Bangladesh and Britain

Now I write a lot about Bangladesh and I do talk about the problems here and abuse is one of them. Girls are particularly vulnerable which means that, ironically, their freedom is often curtailed so they can be protected. To tell a Western woman that she can’t go for a walk by herself, must cover up all her body and shouldn’t talk to strangers is likely to have her offended and defiant in a minute. Unfortunately it’s damned sensible advice here not just for bideshis (foreigners) but for the local women too. It may not be fair but it is just too dangerous not to do this.

That said, most children are actually abused in the home by family members rather than outside. But that’s exactly the same situation in Britain! There is no real difference at all – just look at the news report that started this whole post off in the first place!

Actually, I suggest that children are as safe or even probably safer here in Bangladesh than they are in the West. I say this because, whilst abuse is possible and does happen, most of the time children are brought up in larger, extended families here and are rarely alone with anyone for long – a prerequisite for abuse to happen. My house is filled with people all day long (something that, as a people-person, I love but my introvert wife hates). It is no different in most homes here which are themselves usually in little village groups. My children are safe to go out of the house without really worrying about where they are going because I know wherever they go there will be lots of people around. There is protection all around. The same can’t be said for my home in the UK where you can walk a long time before bumping into someone.

So a country with less rules and certainly less ability to police and enforce laws is actually as safe or possibly a safer place than my own Britain with all its ‘nanny-state’ rules and regulations. I wonder if we need less rules in the West, not more.

But then I return to this news report and I come back to thinking “monster” and “how could the state let this happen?” and I return to the confusion. I really don’t know what to think! Perhaps I need help here?

Hurting people

I turn to a writer and speaker who I have the privilege of knowing a little bit and who I have heard speak many times in the past. His name is Jeff Lucas and I enjoy his talks and books for two reasons:

First, he’s really funny. How can so many mishaps and mistakes happen to one man? I don’t know, but his humility shines through his writings as he recounts screw-up after screw-up and I always appreciate someone who encourages us to look at their weaknesses rather than be conned by their own perceived prowess and magnificence. Jeff is a genuinely nice guy.

Secondly, Jeff is a man who gets angry. Despite being a Christian, he never preaches from the pulpit, pontificating to the poor from an ivory-tower distance. Instead, he gets angry about injustice; he gets angry about suffering; he gets angry at the stupid and insensitive things people say and do (not least when that person is Jeff himself – again, very humbling). This is not a writer who offers easy answers for living in a difficult world – he hates such attempts, in fact. He writes just as one of us: suffering and struggling to understand a world where a father can treat his children worse than his dog, where a girl can be shot in the head for wanting to go to school and for a countless number of other evil things happening all over the world and in every country.

In one of his books (I think it was “Lucas on Life 1” but could be wrong and don’t have it in Bangladesh with me) he said something simple in the middle of a paragraph probably in the context of some totally different subject. The sentence stuck with me and deeply affected me. For a couple of years I had it stuck on my wall in my classroom for my students to think about. It was this:

“Hurt people hurt people.”

I partly liked it because you can read it several ways – which is why I had it up as students would inevitably ask why I was demanding that everyone should “Hurt people! Hurt people now!

But I mostly liked it because it is true when you read it correctly. People who have been hurt tend to be the people who hurt others. If you like, it should read “people who have been hurt in the past hurt people now” but that’s nowhere near as succinct.

What’s clear is that we live in a hurting world.

In my experience – from teaching difficult and damaged students in the classroom in Britain to seeing the effects of drug addiction tearing a family apart in Bangladesh – no one just wakes up one morning and for no reason at all says “you know, today I’ll lock my daughter inside the kennel.” There is damage already there. That person is already hurt. This father is already damaged. This doesn’t excuse or condone his actions for one moment; a hurt person can also choose that they will never allow that hurt to be passed on to their family or anyone else they know; we all have a choice. But it does explain why imposing tougher state law and regulations will never stamp out such abuse.

The benefits of nosey neighbours

In fact, though it now annoys and offends the average Westerner today, I think that Asian countries like Bangladesh hold the key. Here, when someone does something wrong, the immediate community around deals with them (sometimes physically) because the police are rarely there to do anything. I’m not proposing vigilantism here but the days of the local community knowing everyone else’s business and that affecting how you behaved as a result is well and truly gone from Britain at least. But living under the power of your local community is still alive and well in communal-thinking Bangladesh.

Whilst that can cause many problems – no Westerner that I know of likes the idea of nosey neighbours stirring up trouble –  I think it is well worth the restriction on freedom to see our children safe. The restriction comes from wanting to remain part of your community rather than a Governmental body threatening to slap in you chains or send you to parenting classes. It asks you, effectively, to be responsible again. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than Big Brother, in my opinion. I would love to see it return to the West.

Here’s to responsibility. Long may it restrict our selfishness, hurts and desire to repeat those past hurts with those around us.

And here’s to no more children suffering at the hands of anyone ever again – wherever they live.

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About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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18 Responses to My right to abuse my children?

  1. Ameena says:

    Your readers are so insightful and thoughtful that I’m not sure I am worthy of adding anything to this amazing post. So I’ll just say this: you are just a fantastic writer Ken. Truly.

    Like

    • Ameena that is an incredibly lovely thing for you to say and you’ve cheered me up no end! Thank you 😀 Now, if only I can find a publisher who thinks I’m so fantastic, then I would be probably be so ecstatic I might just fall off my chair!

      I’m very glad you enjoyed both the post and the comments that everyone has given so far. I’m grateful for your time and theirs. 🙂

      Like

  2. Tim Naylor says:

    Good post, in particular I think you’ve got the point about community involvement bob-on. I’ve always understood it from the point of view of ‘having people around prevents abuse’. However your post opened up, for me at least, a new line of thought which is the affect of ‘peer group’ influence. It’s a very powerful force that controls a person’s behaviour. Not just “what would xyz think of me if I did such a thing” but also the role of xyz as a role model. The fear of disapproval from a respected role model is a powerful deterrent don’t you think?
    I think western society is losing the benefit of role models as a positive force across society…… But that’s a whole new blog topic in its own right!

    Like

    • Hi Tim,

      I love it when someone comments on a post and you think “dang, that’s just what I should have said!”. You’re point about role models in the community is a really important one and I wish I’d put that in the post! I think you’re right that it could be a post all of its own and it is one of the things I do love about LAMB – that there are many role models here that people do look up to and take their cues from. Whilst this can be abused (and role models can fall, as the Western newspapers LOVE to write about), I think it is still a great force for community healthy development.

      Thanks for commenting, mate – always good to hear from you 🙂

      Like

  3. SassySass says:

    Living here in the US, especially during this past election time, you get very used to hearing “MY freedom! MY rights.” We are all so obsessed with retaining our freedoms that at the same time they leave open a wide door for abuse as you mentioned in your post. Its such a large mire of a topic and I commend you for taking it on. I am of the mind of one of your blog commenters:
    “I think if a child’s health and safety is at risk, then a person should not be granted the privilege of choice. ” … however i also see how this could easily turn into a “minority report” style society where government has a hand in how we now raise our children too. Where do we draw the line? At safety? what type of safety? physical? mental? emotional?

    I have to say though, I totally agree and love that you brought up the nosey neighbors and family being around as a helpful thing. I grew up in the middle east and while such cases did happen they were rare and few. There were too many other adults around that would be able to “catch” an incident like so in the bud before it became a habit or worse. The shame and consequences seemed to be warning enough at times.

    If there was a way to LOVE rather than just like this post, I would. Kudos!

    Like

    • I think the traditional way to LOVE a post is to reblog it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and any other social media you have (hint ;))!

      You’ve hit the nub of my dilemma! We want to stop people like this and that means taking away their rights to freedom. At the same time, State control is a frighteningly inhuman thing. It is good to hear you confirming my thoughts about community (or ‘nosey neighbours’). I think the Middle East and Asian cultures are similar in that respect. We need a culture, I think, where children just can’t be alone for long, where we always know where they are. My two have certainly benefited in this way. I wish I had been so lucky as a child. Alas, I wasn’t.

      I am so pleased you loved the post. I was actually very nervous about writing it and sharing it for a whole number of reasons. I want to stimulate debate but NOT cause offence – itself a very thin line to judge.

      Like

  4. oddznns says:

    HI Ken

    I do apologize if I sounded doctrinaire. I was just using the Bible as a point of reference because of where you were coming from. I think my point would still be the same whatever religious text I did refer to.

    Back to your fog. I guess my belief is “there is no right to be bad.”. The difficulty is “what is bad” and “who determines what bad is.” Our difference is that I don’t believe an individual can determine what’s bad just based on their own subjective perceptions… hurt people, as you say, may not see straight. This is where governments, communities, faiths come in. Even then, very bad things can be accepted as good.

    All I can say is that I may have a different position from you and to others as well, but I will always try to maintain the same posture – to speak my truth with respect and consideration towards that inner power that is in you. I do apologize if it sounded like I hadn’t in my original comment.

    Like

    • No need to apologise – your view is a completely valid one and not one I’m saying I disagree with. All I stated is that this post and the blog in general avoids religious argument purely because of the desire to welcome people of all belief systems (including atheism) and find common ground. I think you are absolutely right that what you said could be applied to most or all of the major religions in the world.

      Just from a religious point of view for a moment, I’m not sure you can say we have no right to be bad, though I get your meaning and broadly agree with the principle. If you take a Biblical view, for instance (there are parallels in other religions), then God has given mankind the CHOICE to be good or bad – Freewill. The major interpretation of theology is that it is what we do with this choice that affects where we stand with God as a result. Perhaps we’re playing with words here but I would equate a God-given choice with a Human Right.

      I agree with you about communities and faiths having a part to play with determining what is good and bad because we are, as individuals, subjective creatures. But I can’t agree with Governments playing that part. When you take away the humanity and give control to a system, I believe you are just swapping one evil for another. We’ve seen this happen in history (Nazism and Soviet Russia as just two examples) and know that mankind becomes MOST evil when it is hidden behind a state machine.

      Like

  5. My heart aches reading your piece. I think if a child’s health and safety is at risk, then a person should not be granted the privilege of choice. Hopefully, family can come to the aid. However, a lot these problems run in families. It is a very complex problem.

    Like

    • You’re right, it IS a very complex issue and my heart is definitely in agreement with you. These kinds of people have lost the right to choice. But (and I think it is a BIG but) the problem is that as soon as you start to implement this, you are on a slippery slope to total state control. George Orwell writes of this in ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ and, of course, ‘Animal Farm’ is really the story of the Russian revolution and the birth of the soviet state showing us that his fears have actually already taken place. Likewise, Aldous Huxley presents a similar image in ‘Brave New World’. These are very real fears that I see the state slowly bringing true.

      As way of an example, let’s say we were able to screen parents and make sure that monsters like this cannot have children. Brilliant. We wipe out child abuse in an instant. But let’s think for a moment – 100 years ago and how this man treated his kids would probably bring nothing more than the shaking of heads from neighbours because he ‘is not a nice father’. It wouldn’t have brought notice from the law. This would have been acceptable (if not liked) behaviour. He didn’t kill or torture his kids. So, let’s say we’ve eradicated this kind of abuse with our state control. But then what’s left? Suddenly now, the mother who lets her kids get their own breakfast and cook their own meals because she can’t be bothered now becomes the ‘child abuser’. Heck, half the kids in my last school in the UK would probably fit into this category – what used to be called ‘latchkey kids’ who pretty much function independent of their family living in the same house. Now THESE people would be seen as cruel and abusive. Do we now prevent them from becoming parents? If we do, then the next level up becomes the bottom layer and so on. Before you know it, unless you have the wages of a surgeon or lawyer, have an exceptionally large IQ, come from good family stock with no criminal record – not even a speeding ticket – and have perfect genes with no blemishes you won’t be able to have children. This isn’t fantasy, in some parts of the world, certainly in the last 100 years of history, there have been many such regimes or similar.

      THIS is my trouble with saying that some should not be granted the privilege of choice. BUT, as I say, my heart totally agrees with you. When I see people like this I think “Sod choice, never let monsters like this ever go near children again”.

      Like

  6. Welshtabby. says:

    Oh the benefits of nosey neighbours!
    And this is one thing I very often get on my soapbox about, the death of communities.
    I grew up in a community. A community where no-one had any more than anyone else. A community where the strongest looked out for the weakest in it. A community where, if an elderly/sick/infirm person wasn’t seen (or some sign of life like curtains opened) by a certain time of the morning, you were sent to check if they were okay.
    My Grandmother would always say “Thank the LORD for nosey neighbours!”

    Like

    • Agreed – whilst I acknowledge that those same nosey neighbours can cause terrible troubles if they decide to work against you. Nevertheless, a community that is close tends to stay close and strong. Generally speaking, people in a community look after each other. Certainly in Bangladesh I would say that’s how it works – imperfectly of course!

      Like

  7. Addie says:

    I am just so grateful I was in a safer place where I was when I was a child.

    Like

    • Indeed Addie. I am grateful my children are growing up in much better conditions than these poor unfortunate children mentioned in the link. No child deserves an upbringing like that. We should count our blessings for where things in our lives have been, or are, good.

      Like

  8. oddznns says:

    No… you don’t have a right to abuse your children. Go back to the bible… here’s a bunch of different bible verses… and while some of them talk about discipline, none speaks about abuse. http://www.openbible.info/topics/our_responsibilities_as_parents

    You have a choice to be a good person or not… and you do have a choice to be a parent. But if you choose to be a bad parent, then you’ve forfeited your parental privileges. To every privilege there is a responsibility. I do believe being a parent is a privilege that we chose, not a right.

    And even if you don’t subscribe to the state,well, there is a higher order that says what we can/cannot and should/should not do to our children.

    Hope that helps clear the fog in your head a little.

    Like

    • Hmm…I think you’re missing where my fog is lying!

      Firstly, I’ve avoided religion here (despite allowing the guest appearance of a Christian writer, chosen not for his faith but for his common sense) because not everyone here reads the Bible. Some read the Qur’an or various other books or, indeed, subscribe to no faith at all. I’ve deliberately kept faith out of this though I agree with you that it can (maybe should) have a big impact on how we behave in society and towards our family.

      I agree with you that you have a choice to be a good person or not – in fact that is the very point I make. It is not for governments to make that decision for us. Which is why I say I am glad I have the right to wake up in the morning and decide what I will be – good or bad. I don’t have a government making that decision for me.

      But when I read news articles like this I want to turn against that. I WANT to impose laws from above to stop men like this from ever hurting their children again. But I don’t agree with that stance, yet I desire it to stop things like this happening!

      There lies my fog! Not in my own personal ethical code but on what ethical code I could wish to impose on others. Do we allow rights for all – including my right to decide to bad one day – or do we impose an ethical code on people that is not of their choosing? In the end, because of Jeff’s influence, I conclude that there will always be bad people in the world but what we need is not government intervention but community. So I fixed my own fog! Well…to an extent. I think it is far from perfect, as I say in the post.

      I have to add that using the Bible is far from foolproof when it comes to deciding what it says on treating our family or indeed anyone. There are many in the past who have used verses to justify their mistreatment of children and the Bible is worryingly silent on subjects such as the abolition of slavery. That does not mean it has no value, of course. I am far from taking that stance. But with any faith viewpoint we take, it is always possible to twist it to say something very different. The shooting of Malala Yousufzai which I allude to in the post is a case in point. Here we have one set of Muslims opposing another set. Both claim faith in Allah; both interpret what that means in different ways.

      Like

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