Guest post by Zena Costa, independent sports mgmt professor and writer.
I have been following the story of this little girl in the news since 2010 and as a result did a couple of reports & features to help. Checking with friends in the US I learnt today that it’s been two years and “investigation” is still ongoing. I decided to share because I do not want Zahra Baker to have lost her life without something positive coming out of it.
It is a senseless, horrific, heartbreaking tragedy. This child got the worst hand dealt to her by life, and I can’t make sense of it all, no matter how hard I try. All I can do now is trying to prevent it from happening to even one child in my community. And none of us should rest until we all do the same.
Do not assume that a male child is safe. In india, 33,000 female and 20,000 boys are abused every minute. Yes, every one minute. And what about the unreported millions?
We all feel helpless when we hear of these stories. And in some cases—either because of our geographic location or circumstances we are. But, if more people in every community started to take action, to get involved in organizations that prevent and aid in child abuse cases, it would make a difference, to the world your own child steps out to.
I did as a former journo report on cases in Goa via CHILDLINE 1098 and the impact it made on my life was significant. I know that my involvement was crucial in at least four cases that involved a child being removed from a dangerous home situation and I hold that memory dear to my heart. The real impact that experience had on me though was the stacks and stacks of folders of abuse in 2003. I was shocked to learn of the sheer number of cases, and over half of them as serious and horrific as the Zahra Baker case.
So many don’t make it into the media, which is why we all, understandably so think these are isolated cases. Abuse seems to happen “somewhere else” in another neighborhood.
But in fact, it happens every day, in every socio-economic situation. In the worst neighborhoods, and in the best. From people you would expect, and people you would never have dreamt could cause harm to a child.
So, here’s my call to action for everyone reading this, everyone I know, Zahra is gone, but the least you can do is protect your own child. Be vigilant, even at your own house, you’d be astounded to realize how many vultures are out there to gnaw at the life of your precious child. That’s the brutal truth. DO SOMETHING. Writing a cheque to an organization, however helpful, is not enough. We need to do much more.
SIMPLE WAYS TO AWARENESS AND ACTION:
First and foremost, pay attention to the children around you – children in your child’s school, children in your church, your co-worker’s children etc.
We should not be a paranoid society, accusing innocent people of wrong doing. But children give out signals. And most of us know, we get that gut feeling when something is wrong.
If you get these signals, get involved, find out what’s going on and if need be report it. Yes, it is drastic. Yes, it is a HUGE decision not to be taken lightly or for any other reason than the safety and well-being of a child. Remember you could be changing a life, saving a life.
Severe abuse is not always physical. There aren’t always bruises and broken bones. The worst abuse is sometimes emotional and is easy for the abuser (and the victim) to hide. Again, listen to your gut. Does the child seem sad, depressed, timid, or excessively anxious or worried? Do things just seem ‘not right’?
More often than not, your gut is telling you something is wrong because of a series of factors. You know one or both parents and are questioning their actions or lifestyle and more importantly, the children seem to be struggling.
Cases of abuse are not always an obviously evil abusive parent or family member. Unfortunately, the parents or family members are often sick themselves—either fighting addiction or mental illness and in some of these cases they truly can’t see the harm they are doing. But no matter who has what trouble, no matter how tough it all is—children need to be put first. Their safety and well-being is all that matters.
The emotional scars from all kinds of abuse take years , sometimes lifetimes to heal.
Another action we can all take is to get involved with organizations that do good work, hands-on work in the fight against child abuse and neglect.
As parents, we inspire and encourage certain kinds of behavior in our kids; they idolize us, look up to us and turn to us on a dark night for a hug. We are not here to say ”all will be okay ,” I don’t say that anymore , that’s mythic. All can not be okay till you take an action against all that is wrong in your as well as your kid’s life.
What adults-mothers, fathers, relatives, friends do to these kids in abusive households makes me both furious and helpless. It often makes me cry at night.
It is too late for Zahra. But it is not too late for countless other children out there who are enduring the very same abuse and neglect in their homes. Unfortunately, I can almost guarantee you that within your county, your state, your city, even your locality there are several children just like Zahra that need you. NOW. Please do something. Save the Children. They’re the future. Don’t let their present mar the rest of their life.