Friday, January 19, 2018

We must do more to save our children

Express editorial logo440

Mark Fraser

An accident is, by definition, an unintended event. But when several children die accidentally within a few weeks, it seems that there are factors which, while not intentional, are causing the spike in these deaths.

The cases are all varied. One baby died after being forgotten in the backseat of a car and left there for the entire hot day. Two others died from drowning: one in the family’s yard, the other during a swimming class. Another baby died after being asphyxiated when strapped into a defective car seat in a day-care centre. A third baby died some days after being injured in a car accident and, this week, a six-month-old apparently died while being breast-fed, while an 11-year-old girl was strangled after getting tangled up in a blouse hanging from a clothes-line. And then there were the two children who were executed by gang members, and another two who were shot by police while allegedly shooting at the officers.

There are two main factors common to all these cases—(1) varying degrees of adult negligence; and (2) the socio-economic category that the children belonged to. It may not be that any of the incidents involve criminal negligence, but in the cases of accidental deaths, more caution on the part of the adults would certainly have prevented at least five of these 11 fatalities. Thus, pools cannot be left unattended or unsecured when small children are around. One care-giver cannot look after six babies. And babies in vehicles should always be secured.

In the case of the boys who were shot, and who ranged in age from nine to 16 years, the negligence was a more indirect sort. It is easy to blame the parents but, in the context of the crime hotspot neighbourhoods these boys grew up in, it is not a given that the parents could have prevented the tragic fates of their children. It is certainly not what any parent would have wanted. In those cases, stopping children being killed by violence would require hard political decisions which two separate administrations have avoided taking for the past decade.

But, in most of the other cases, preventing more children from being killed means ensuring that care-givers are more competent and alert. Unfortunately, it seems that the adults who take care of children learned nothing from these incidents. If they did, the first incident would have made them so cautious that most of the other deaths could never have happened.

Given that almost all the dead children came from urban and lower-middle-class backgrounds, it is a reasonable hypothesis that targeting the care-givers, professional and otherwise, in this cohort may help prevent more children from dying accidentally.