Photo: Annie Spratt
Day 2211 – Day 2222
I wrote this post on the weekend and lost it. Maybe I’m not supposed to be writing about it but I think it is important to put out there.
Last week I went to buy a pair of waterproof walking shoes from a shop that I know fits hard to fit feet. I have wide feet and so I struggle to find shoes that fit. When I need a pair of good walking shoes or jogging shoes, this store in the city, close to my old University is where I go. They have specialists who will look at how you walk and find the shoe that will be best for you and your sport.
When I was finished, I decided to go for a walk along the beach that surrounds my Alma Mater. As I was nearing the end of my beach stroll, I came upon a father and two teenage girls. One was probably somewhere between 10 and 13 and the other was easily 14 or older. The younger one started to cry and I heard the father shout at the older girl:
“Well, you kicked her earlier, you IDIOT!”
I stopped in my tracks, the observer, ready to step in if things escalate.
As soon as I stopped, the father kicked the older girl in the gut, punched her on the arm and pushed her so hard that she nearly fell into the brambles several feet behind her. It all happened so fast.
“Whoa, Whoa! That’s enough! Relax!” I said to the man.
“She hit her sister!” He said.
“She is also a child!” I replied.
The man continued to argue with me as to whether she should be able to get away with hitting her younger sister. I reasoned with him that children misbehave and that is part of being children. But, it is our job as adults to set the example and act as adults.
And as adults, we don’t beat our children, here, I said.
It all happened so fast and I wondered if I should call the police but I knew that this family would be long gone before they arrived. I watched the two girls stare in awe that someone had intervened in their private family moment but what the father had not counted on was that his private family moment was happening in public and he was going to happen upon me.
“Oh, so you have someone on YOUR side,” he jeered, directing the comment to the elder of his daughters.
“I am on the side of the children.” I said.
Unhappy with being outnumbered, I suppose, the father ordered his children to walk onward. I was helpless and I told the girls: “You can call ChildLine if you are ever in trouble.”
I knew that if he was willing to kick and punch his daughters in public, the daughter was in for a beating when she went home. I felt sick and utterly helpless.
Normally, I find that aggressive men will beat an adult partner in public but this was the first time I had actually come upon a physical assault on a child in public. Had I had my wits about me, I would have reasoned with him that children learn from our example and if he wanted to teach the children not to kick and hit one another then kicking and hitting them was not the solution. Punishing them by cutting off the internet for a few days would be appropriate. I would have asked him if he needed a break to calm down and I would watch the girls. Maybe I would have followed him to see if he had a vehicle that I could report to the police and testify to witnessing the assault. There are many things I could have done, had I had my wits about me.
I studied Children’s Human Rights and Child Poverty in my graduate degree. I knew that in some countries, corporal punishment is still acceptable. In the country where I live, it is acceptable to spank your child provided that they are older than 2 and younger than 12. Beyond that, hitting them is criminal. Kicking, punching and shoving, however, is not spanking and it was clearly criminal, what this man was doing.
I felt very helpless as the family walked swiftly away. I’m certain I’m not the only person to have ever felt this way. I suppose it is why many people just simply choose not to get involved. Nothing changes. Maybe we make it worse.
But, I am grateful for one thing. I know the young man who assisted the founder of ChildLine. I know about this crisis line for children because I studied in a field related to child protection and advocacy. I knew enough to tell them the name and if they googled it, they would find this country’s version of the children’s crisis line.
I needed to do more and so as I walked back to my car, I greeted everyone who passed me with good wishes and I chatted to a woman who was learning again to ride a bike. I had to put some good energy out into the universe to counter the horrible cloud that had puffed up around this man and spread out along the beach. I am grateful that when I got home, I was able to look up the laws in my city so that I would be better prepared should this happen again.
Recently, there have been many news reports of children as young as 6 years old being taken into custody for having a temper tantrum in school. Tantrums are not acceptable but they can be a symptom of problems at home and are frequent at certain developmental ages.
I was the only person who came to the aid of those two young girls on that beach. In some states in the USA, it seems that developmental challenges in children is being criminalized. We are failing our children if we think that as childless adults, or adults who are not parents to these children, we are not responsible for their welfare. The best interests of the child should be the central organizing principle in all matters concerning minors. The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child lays that out in no uncertain terms.
I can’t let this incident pass without comment. I am grateful that I’ve had time to think of some other strategies to use if a situation like this arises again. I will have better reasoning skills. I will know right away to talk to the children directly about resources. I will know to find some identifying feature and to call the police. I am grateful for this lesson.
I have more to learn and in the weeks to come, I will be reaching out to social worker friends who are in the field of child protection and I will ask them for additional strategies. I will be looking for ways to contribute my time to child protection and advocacy, as a volunteer. We are a civilized society and civilized people who work to build a civil society in which everyone is safe and can thrive. A big part of that is that we do not beat our children, here.
For what are you most grateful, today?