‘Jonathan James, 10‘ occupies a prominent spot on the cover of the online newspaper, the Huffington Post. An image of a cherubic child by that name rests below the heading. Jonathan James was only 10 years old when his biological father and stepmother locked him in an air conditioned room, and made him stand on an ‘X‘ as punishment for his “crime” of wetting his bed. Jonathan died of dehydration. Public opinion is adamant Casey Anthony was responsible for the death of her child. Child abuse is not always as extreme as this; it can sometimes be subtle (depending on our level of awareness), though no less destructive.
Those who have transited Parika during the rush hour will have seen children, in my estimation no older than eleven, lingering around bars or restaurants, begging for morsels of food or money to purchase same. When asked the reason for begging, one of these children informed me that his mother sanctions it since his father abandoned them. It is noteworthy that that child was begging about 2 pm.
Within proximity to my house in Cotton Field on the Essequibo Coast are five children who almost daily loiter around bars, food establishments and a supermarket in the village. These five boys, possibly ranging from 4 to 10 years, are usually shirtless and unshod, and to my knowledge, do not attend school. When they possess the energy, they would gallop along the busy streets, sometimes grabbing behind trucks, totally oblivious to speeding traffic on the Essequibo public road. And when they do beg, it is usually for food to satisfy their hunger, since, according to them, “mommy didn’t cook.” Rumours also abound that these children beg and return home with earnings for the parents to feed their addictions. For those knowledgeable of this particular situation, these boys all live with their parents, but sadly the destitution and questionable sobriety of the adults, leave these children vulnerable, unprotected, and neglected.
How the Child Welfare authorities in Anna Regina and even senior personnel of the regional administration seemingly miss these children and their plight is most appalling – the boys live and loiter in plain sight of these authorities. A report was recently made to the Anna Regina Police Station about the need to warn these parents about the progressive delinquency of their sons – the children have begun interfering with people and business entities.
To my mind such anti-social outbursts will only increase if these children go unnoticed and neglected. From a psychological standpoint, they are internalizing that they deserve to be treated as invisible, unprotected and worthless. How will they ever know how to assert their rights and human dignity with the conditioning that the world hates them? How shall they ever empathize with others if all they learn is humiliation, neglect and intimidation? What about the health of their self-esteem and self-concept?
It is not uncommon to see these boys begging with their mother standing nearby. Like the boy in Parika, these children are ‘parentified,’ meaning they are coerced by their parents into assuming res-ponsibilities for which they are chronologically and emotionally incapable. Interest-ingly enough, many parents in our culture advocate mild to extreme forms of child labour under the pretext of industriousness.
In their formative years, these children are flayed by covert abuse. They are emotionally abandoned by parents, who themselves require social assistance beyond a cheque; they have been forced to band together for protection, especially when they venture out at nights to beg; they are gradually learning to accept rejection and public scorn as definitive of their character. We should be mindful that those who are deprived of love, kindness and understanding, usually inflict their childhood torment on others. After all, how can any human being possibly demonstrate emotional sensitivity to another if such warmth was amputated from their psyche? Do we need further evidence of this psychological decline considering the multitudes of cold- hearted narcissists who rule the world, and eerily enough, awe us?
While spankings, beatings, and sexual exploitation unleash mayhem on the psyche; humiliation, betrayal, emotional incest and neglect also traumatize children. Once we fully understand that trauma is not synonymous with insanity then we can conclude that these begging children in Cotton Field and throughout Guyana are already seriously traumatized and urgently require counselling. Unfortunately though, we diminish the severity of the issue at these very stages, and bear the grief of terrifying consequences.
Jonathan James and Caylee Anthony were victims of a dynamic where the sources of their trust unravelled tragically. It is my hope that we can be custodians for the welfare and well-being of all children, lest we mourn the gruesome headlines.
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