Tuesday 27 September 2016

It's not race, it's men and power

Poor, vulnerable children are still considered worthless in civilised society.

Published 31/08/2014 | 02:30

Rotherham Minster
Rotherham Minster

There are occasions when it's difficult to believe in the onward march of human good. Or that our so-called civilisation has managed to eradicate the Hobbsian dystopia of a life that can - oh so easily - become nasty, brutish and short. Sometimes it's very hard to hope that "the next 20 years will be better" to quote a cynical but spot-on David Hume.

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Revelations such as we've seen from the Yorkshire town of Rotherham this week makes one wonder if mankind has learned anything over the centuries. It seems we haven't. When Christ said "suffer little children" and that "the poor will always be with us" it's probably a fair bet that he didn't mean for us to treat poor children as a sub-species. To abuse them relentlessly and then ignore their pleas for mercy and justice. And yet, that's what we've done. What we continue to do.

There's been a lot of discussion about the "race" issue in the horrifying details about what occurred in Rotherham. And certainly, ethnicity is a factor; the criminals were Pakistani, their attitudes to women the basest misogyny, their victims overwhelmingly white, but the assumption unifying this case and many others which concern the appalling treatment of children is that of "worthlessness".

No one cared about these children - or at least, no one with any power or influence, which amounts to the same thing.

This isn't new. Those who prey on vulnerable kids depend on it. They rely on society caring more about the fallout of exposure than the rights of the children. There have always been groups of men 'who organise themselves into paedophile groups: Savile, the Catholic Church, Westminster, child sex-slave traders. They all exert some form of power.

In the Rotherham case what protected those scumbag, feral men for so long was the power of political correctness and cultural relativity. They knew this and used it to their advantage. In the Saville case it was fame. In the Catholic Church it was righteous power, in Westminster, (allegedly) privilege. In the increasing sex-slave trade in children, it's money.

It's not race. It's men. And power. And poverty. And the complicity of ordinary people - social workers, police, priests, parents, politicians, you, me and that nice woman down the road - in making child abuse a crime that still shouldn't be talked about. From Cardinal Sean Brady swearing those two abused boys to secrecy to the mocking dismissal of children's evidence in Rotherham, speaking up about child abuse and paedophilia is often seen as a worse crime than the abuse itself. Many kids are still blamed for bringing it on themselves.

Of course, we have our own history of disbelieving children and suppressing evidence of abuse here in Ireland. Whatever you say, say nothing and all that . . . The 1931 Carrigan Report, which detailed an "alarming number of reported cases of abuse" was promptly judged to be "practically without value", mainly because few trusted the evidence of children - or deemed their voices to be equal to the adults they were accusing.

Last week, we acknowledged that the death rates of babies in the Bessborough mother-and-baby home in Co Cork reached nearly 70pc during the 1940s. That's seven out of 10 babies who died in infancy there. I say "acknowledged" because the facts were lying there in plain sight for any of us to "uncover" if we so chose. But we didn't, because those children were considered by nice society to be near "worthless". Unless of course, they could be sold into adoption elsewhere, or put to work in nearby farms. Or perhaps some of them ended up as sex slaves to local paedophile groups. Who knows? Who cared?

None of this is 'news', it's just a very belated attempt to say it wasn't us and we knew nothing about it.

Which of course is an out-and-out lie. In the same way that the "people in charge" in Rotherham - social workers, police, etc - denigrated the evidence of those children because they were seen as "white trash" and therefore worthless, the nice Catholic people of middling Ireland dismissed reports of abuse, degradation, misery and starvation from all our venerable institutions for the "vulnerable"; the Magdalene Laundries, the mother-and-baby homes, the industrial schools and other places where we put away the "poor" people we didn't want to look at in polite society.

And we didn't much mind what happened to them when they were away from our eyes. We decided to believe the people in charge, the people in power. And this attitude is still the norm. Poor children are still considered less than equal, less deserving, somehow complicit in their own misery.

Look at the facts: 50pc of children who grow up in lone parent families are materially deprived, 34pc are at risk of poverty. Do we care? Hardly. We just cut their one-parent payment off when the child turns seven. Seven! How are they meant to survive? Well, the mother's obviously a strumpet and the child not much better - get them out doing something morally corrective like chimney sweeping or window washing - would seem to be the narrative justifying that decision.

Then there's the approximately 200 children who have died in State care over the last 10 years. The HSE isn't really sure exactly how many (well, who's counting?) - but it seems about a quarter of them died by suicide. Which shouldn't come as a total surprise when one considers that over 3,000 of our children and teens are still on waiting lists for vital mental services.

In order to provide aid for such vulnerable children who can't afford private care, what did the State do? Ah yes, we slashed funding for mental health services even further. Sure it's not as if it's a real illness. Then there's the horror that is direct provision, where nearly 2,000 children are immured in "accommodation" that wouldn't be tolerated in Mountjoy. Their crime? They are poor and powerless. And foreign.

"State-sanctioned child poverty and exclusion" is how the Irish Refugee Council describes it. Retired Supreme Court judge Catherine Guinness has described it as: "an example of a government policy which has not only bred discrimination, social exclusion, enforced poverty and neglect, but has placed children at real risk."

So yes, it is easy to despair about human goodness when one is forced to look clearly at the treatment we mete out to the young and impoverished, to those with no power. It was ever thus.

Just last month we were roundly criticised by the UN for our failure to ban hitting children. Yes, we still believe that it's okay to hit children. Yet not even the worst paedophile or vicious rapist would be legally allowed suffer similar physical abuse.

If only the zealots who approved the butchering of a young suicidal rape victim, just a child herself, were as concerned about the welfare of children who are actually born, the world would be a much better place.

Twitter @carolmhunt

Sunday Independent

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