Child Abuse is an Adult Crime

Children are God’s most wonderful and precious gifts to us. The world may be run and monopolised by grown-ups but a world without children will be deprived of the unique ways in which children force us grown-ups to view, learn and understand the fundamentals of life.  The child’s perspective is the essential ingredient by which an adult’s education may be enhanced and completed.

Children give so much joy, delight and purpose to adults and the headaches they may give to adults are nothing compared to the harm adults can and do give to them.

Child abuse is an adult crime against children who often do not have the authority, physical and emotional strength or presence of mind to avoid.

Child abuse crimes have very serious short and long-term consequences on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of their child victims.

Grown-ups owe children protection against such crimes.

Unfortunately, such crimes against children have happened in the most (thought to be) unlikely places such as the “safety” of their own homes and child-care facilities.

When I headed an international aid and development non-governmental organisation in East Timor with 160 staff, it once happened right under our very noses as it were. Two years before, I was walking on the venue of a ruined building in the front part of our office compound which was right next to the United Nations compound. It was then that I thought why not we do up the ruined building and operate a Mother & Child Clinic.

With the clinic programme in full swing, one morning my operations manager walked into my office looking very tensed and grim. I was told that our security officer had done something bad to a 12-year old patient. Her mother had brought the child very early to be first in queue for the morning’s clinic. My security guard left the mother outside the gate and took the child in purportedly for her to be registered but took her behind the building instead. The two other security guards on duty saw the child running out crying followed by the security guard in question.  Quite obviously an attempt on her modesty was made but thankfully the child had had the presence of mind to flee from him.

Being trained and educated and a trainer of my staff in child abuse protocol this news had a crushing effect on me. I hit the roof but came down to earth soon enough to set a series of action in motion. I sent for our health programme manager and together with our operations manager we sat down with our two security guards who had reported the incident. The security guard in question was suspended from work and was asked to surrender his work uniforms. A police report was lodged.

We then went on the worse journey I had ever undertaken in my life- a short car ride to the home of the 12-year old to meet her parents. The father was working in a government department but had understandably stayed at home that morning. In an amazingly strict compliance to proper cultural upbringing when told, the man came out to greet me and invited me into his humble home. Once again, I was being given a lesson in the dignity of the poor and humble folks. His poor wife with tears streaming down her cheek brought coffee to me. The both of them insisted that I should please drink it. It was the most difficult cup of beverage I had ever taken. He then thanked me for coming to his humble home and apologised that I had had to come so early in the work day to see him. We spoke quietly adult to adult. I could see the grief he and his wife had had to endure.  I conveyed our sincere apologies and made it clear that their daughter was an innocent victim commending her for her swift action to escape from our security guard’s bad motive. I gave them my solemn word that there would be no cover up and prompt action would be taken.

On the same day, I had a visit by the security guard in question to plead his own case. The next morning as soon as I emerged from my residence, I was greeted by his wife and five children. The poor woman begged for mercy for the sake of her children. This went on for the next two days. On the fifth day, after having satisfied myself that we had reasonably examined all details of this unhappy and shameful episode as well as closing any possible gap in our own child abuse prevention protocol, the man in question was issued an expulsion notice. (Quietly, I had also undertaken to see that through private means his wife and children who were innocent of his crime would have enough cash for the next three months.) A year later, I was approaching my car with my groceries when a taxi pulled up alongside me. Out came my ex-security guard thanking me and still asking for his job back. I was pleased to see that for the sake of the wife and children at least he was gainfully employed.

Let me repeat, child abuse is an adult crime committed by what may first appear as the most unlikely perpetrators- parents, siblings, child-care givers, teachers, sports trainers, and yes, security personnel and even religious priests.  No one should be trusted and no one who is guilty should be spared. There must be no cover-up.

And certainly in this matter, prevention is better than cure. “Don’t wait for a child to be harmed; create policies and practices that reduce the risk that children will be harmed.”

(Republished with permission from OnGOHing)

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