April 1, 2011
Family, community values collapsing


If ever we were unsure of the steady deterioration of family and community values in our society, the past week has thrown up concrete evidence. Two issues of blatant child abuse, one resulting in the deaths of two innocent children, have created waves of shock throughout the society.{{more}}

In a case before the High Court, a young mother of two was acquitted of a charge of manslaughter, but found guilty on a lesser charge of abandoning the children. Evidence put before the court revealed repeated cases of the young children being abandoned by their mother, sometimes for prolonged periods. Included in the evidence was the revelation that the deceased children, locked up in the dwelling house, (one can’t use the term “home” in such circumstances), had to beg neighbours for food and water. The children finally died in a fire.

In the other incident, a three-year-old child of Vermont was alleged to have been brutally beaten by her stepfather. The child has been hospitalised with severe injuries to head and face as well as a broken arm. A three-year old child, mind you, and injuries allegedly inflicted by someone who ought to have been helping to care for her and providing for her welfare.

These incidents, though not unique, either to St.Vincent and the Grenadines or indeed the Caribbean, have shocked the society. The presiding judge, Justice Gertel Thom, made no bones about her feelings on the matter of the infants who died in the inferno. Justice Thom lamented the fact that residents of the community in which the children lived knew about the gross neglect and abandonment of the children for periods of time, but failed to report it to the Police. She expressed disbelief at such collective irresponsibility. The learned judge also commented on our professed “Christianity”, noting that in a country loaded with churches, “love and care are sadly lacking”.

Justice Thom’s comments are an accurate reflection of the selfishness with which we are so imbued that we do not feel any responsibility for what is happening all around us. Even when it involves cases of abuse of children, our responses are more likely to be, “if that was my child…” In other words we seem to be moved to action only when personally affected. Where is the sense of community, of collective responsibility, of our own humanity?

Among the responses there has already been some clamour for a “return to family values” and for the community to take responsibility for raising children. Both are noble ideas, but achieving them in a society where the ends not the means count, where showing concern for the welfare of such victims of abuse, and, quite correctly, reporting the incidents, can bring the do-gooders abuse and even physical harm, it seems far easier to “mind your own business”. Yet this only contributes to a continuation of the incidents. A fundamental societal change is required at home, in school and church, at the community level. There is no ready-made solution, but it is in our interests as a nation and people that we seek one with dogged determination. Such abuse and callous selfishness must be eradicated.