Society in decay
May 21, 2006
By Raffique Shah
It never ceases to amaze me the way the nation is galvanised by incidents like the cruel life and death of baby Amy Emily Annamunthodo. True, her short life of torture, and her gruesome murder, must move to tears anyone who has a conscience, anyone who is human.
From what has been reported thus far, it may well be that that child is better off dead than being condemned to growing up in a home that was hell and a society that is as hypocritical as ours. What tortures me is the way so many people are crying crocodile tears over this one incident, even as tens of thousands of women and children (in the main) are subjected to similar treatment. Even worse are the numerous incidents of abuse, not just physical, but general, that the poor and powerless in this society have to endure in silence.
Okay, so baby Amy's case was special in many regards. But if we examine it closely we see a microcosm of the society in general. How and why her mother gave birth to her at age 15 is something that many people, most of all her grandmother, need to answer. Children making children, as we say, is not a new phenomenon for us. However, it has grown to horrendous proportions and ever so often ends up with horrible consequences to those who are in no way connected with or responsible for what can only be described as "deviant motherhood". I am not painting all young mothers with the broad brush of irresponsibility. But I feel certain if we check carefully, we'll see links between deviant behaviour that's rampant in the country today, and young, irresponsible parents.
What of the grandparents? In many instances they themselves fall into this category. So we have a grandmother or grandfather who will have had children when they were themselves under-age, fuelling generations of irresponsible parents and deviant offspring. While matters of this nature are seen as domestic, hence they should be sorted out in people's homes, the fallout from them adversely affect the country.
I listened to Minister Christine Kangaloo talk about the appointment of retired justice Monica Barnes to look into baby Amy's case for weaknesses in the social services system. But the Government should be doing more, much more. There is a law in this country that spells out the age of consent: if anyone, even a husband-to-be, breaches it, he must be made to pay the penalty. Or, if the illegal act is a fait accompli, hence difficult to be addressed legally, at the very least such under-age parents ought to be monitored by some state authority.
We must ensure that the irresponsible behaviour of a few does not impact negatively on the lives of the many. Some may deem my suggestions draconian. But if China had not implemented strict laws on parenting and population control, that country would not have achieved the economic and social progress it has.
Several prominent people have cried out that communities are culpable in cases like Amy's. People should report abuse of children or women-or men-to the relevant authorities, they say. DCP Winston Cooper actually pointed to laws that allow adults to not just make reports, but invoke "citizens' arrests" in instances of abuse or of delinquency among children. While the laws may give citizens such powers or rights, exercising them is a challenge, and can even be downright dangerous.
In Amy's case, how many of her neighbours would make reports to the police without risking retaliation from violent parents? If an excuse for a human being could inflict the kind of injuries the murdered child suffered, what would he or she do to those who seek to have them arrested? All of us know of women or children who are abused. But we also know that the perpetrators would stop at nothing, including deadly violence against anyone who is perceived to be "interfering" in "family business".
Try "arresting" nine-year-old delinquents; if they themselves don't come after you, their parents or older siblings will. You risk being beaten, shot at, have your house burnt should you dare intervene. And to rub salt in the good citizen's wounds, when you go to the police with such reports, if they dismiss you lightly, you are lucky. The police will tell you they have bandits and kidnappers and murderers to deal with, so why bother them with "trivial" matters? Trivial indeed-until the trivia turns into murder.
Ours is a society that is in decay even as it grows economically. Amy's life of torture, as well as the many cases of sub-human behaviour we are witnessing, is manifestation of this "whitened sepulchre, glowing on the outside, rotten inside". We boast of our economic prowess. We talk in billions of dollars, not millions any more. But deep within, those who have been marginalised and those who are just plain evil, remain a rotten core that will eat away at the opulent crust. Amen.