Over the last week, we have witnessed gruesome acts of child abuse. One of these is the attack on young Jinayah whose flesh was eaten by her 24-year-old father. The others are however less glaring forms of child abuse. They are the types of abuse that are committed indirectly by the State (the Government and all of its citizens) via its lack of proper legislation to protect children, inefficient public sector, as well as its blatant, wanton neglect of specific communities in this country.
This is known as "structural violence", which refers to the ways in which the policies, institutions, cultural values, beliefs and laws in a country contribute to personal suffering of individuals.
When a three-year-old falls from the third floor of her Maloney apartment building due to her home's poor infrastructure and neglect by the State, this is one form of structural violence. When a 14-day-old baby dies, allegedly due to blunt force trauma, and the only person who can be held accountable is her 16-year-old mother, we must all, to some extent, be held accountable. This is another form of structural violence. The question always remains: what precisely occurred when this young mother, as a pregnant teenager, encountered public officials?
Where is the proper children's legislation to treat with cases such as this? We have sat year after year, debating about children's legislation in this country and seem to be at the mercy of the leaders who lack the political will to not only proclaim the relevant pieces of legislation but to adequately staff and finance the ministries responsible for execution.
In addition to blaming parents with mental health problems, poor parenting skills and questionable disciplinary measures, it is time for us to hold the State responsible as well; it is we (the Government, Public Service and community members) who are largely to blame. How many of us have sat idly by when we have heard the screams of children being physically abused in our society? Physical abuse is often thought to be reserved for the private domain of families but, indeed, it is a public concern and should be everyone's business.
When will the State adequately staff the social services, so there no longer will be overworked social workers who cannot attend to the needs of this populace? How long will the State drag its feet on children's legislation? How long will we allow the State to prolong this process due to our own apathy and silence? We are all to blame. As Ella Andall says, a nation should be ashamed when it cannot protect its children. Shame on all of us!