Last night I managed to catch the late night news. I’d just got home from a mind numbing 11 hour shift, the kids were asleep, the lovely wife was busy catching up on the latest episode of some long running American doctor drama. Anyway, I thought I’d make a concerted effort to be less ignorant and catch up on world events, having been recently incapacitated by the paralysing anti-male condition known as Man-Flu.
The first three stories made me want to return to The Land of Ignorance and bathe in its warm waters.
BONG: “Video showing kidnapped Nigeria girls released”
BONG: “Friend of Rolf Harris’ daughter tells of assault in family home”
BONG: “Egyptian girl dies from female genital mutilation”
These were not parent friendly headlines. The first story, of the continuing events in Nigeria is every parent’s worst nightmare. I go in to a panic when I lose sight of my kids for more than two seconds in a supermarket. But imagine you’ve been living under the shadow of over five years of fear and terror only to be told that the same people responsible for destroying your country have now taken your child.
It’s a chilling thought.
Abubakar Shekau, the “flamboyant” leader of Boko Haram (loosely translated to “western education is sinful”) said in the recent 27 minute video that they have “liberated these girls” by converting them from Christianity to Islam. I think all would argue on the use of the word ‘liberated’, and many would agree that the act of forcibly taking another persons child is very un-Islam. This act was committed by cowards who now hide behind the innocent lives of literally hundreds of young girls, who just want to go to school. They did this simply because they wanted hostages to trade for their imprisoned colleagues. Again, cowards.
There have been recent reports of spy planes taking to the skies over Nigeria to monitor mobile phones in an attempt to track the girls down, and outcries of disbelief that it has taken far too long to even start to look for them. But all the time people express their frustration, as every day passes there are parents sat waiting, worrying, hoping for the safe return of their child/children. The thought of this is paralysing, and we can only hope that the girls are found.
In the UK the Rolf Harris investigation, while not in the same vein as the previous story, is none the less a tragic one. It’s the kind of story that makes you do a double-take of disbelief as soon as you hear it. It was the same for Coronation Street actor Bill Roache (found innocent of all charges), Dave Lee Travis (currently awaiting trial on new charges after being declared innocent on a previous investigation) and the recently convicted Stuart Hall. Not so with Max Clifford. I’m probably not the only one who thinks that a man who makes a living from orchestrating the public display of people’s private misfortune is a slime ball. His arrest just made it official in the eyes of the law.
The Yewtree investigation, launched in the wake of Jimmy Saville’s crimes has turned over many stones to find tales of similar abuse by icons of 70’s and 80 entertainment – entertainers that I and those of my generation grew up with. Away from the case itself, it’s sad simply because it soils a small part of our childhood. These kind of stories have become almost commonplace recently. So much so that I’m half expecting to find Rod, Jane & Freddy are neo-Nazi’s, Tony Hart runs a secret multi-national drug cartell and Zippy Bungle & George are masters of some seedy criminal organisation that keeps Jeffery From Rainbow (because that’s his full name) in a dungeon dressed in a gimp mask.
Some people I’ve spoken to over the last few weeks have gone so far as to describe Yewtree as a “witch hunt”, prosecuting men for acts that took place decades ago in a different time which had different attitudes. But time does not excuse any kind of abuse towards a child. The only affect the passage of time has had on this and other similar investigations is the loss or lack of hard evidence, which could theoretically hamper a prosecution’s case. Some have also suggested that the people making these claims against celebrities are merely jumping on the post-Saville bandwagon, possibly even cashing in. This makes it an even sadder story. I personally hope that the charges against Mr. Harris are wrong, if only to preserve a small part of my childhood, but with every passing day we are hearing evidence that tarnishes his character. The unfortunate fact is that even if Mr. Harris is found not guilty, he will still have the accusations attached to his name and reputation.
The next story, and we were abroad again. I was speechless. The recent reports on female genital mutilation (now shortened to FGM, presumably to make it a smidge less uncomfortable to talk about) was, for me, the worst of a terrible trio of awful stories. FGM is an illegal practise in Egypt, where a 13-year old girl recently died during the procedure. (For more details click here for a BBC Online report)
13 year old Suharr died during a procedure that her uncle said would “keep her sexual desires in check”. He claims that her death was “Gods will”. She was 13.
I watched this horrific report with my wife and we both had tears in our eyes as we heard that the girl had been taken for the procedure by her own father to a qualified doctor (both of whom are now being prosecuted in a landmark legal case) to have the FGM done. Even though the practise is illegal, we saw footage of other parents who declared that they will still be taking their own daughters when they are a bit older for the same procedure. We heard these parents say that people opposed are “ignorant” of the reason for this mutilation of their girls. Sat in the comfort of our luxury sofa with our own 3-year-old daughter sleeping soundly upstairs, we were both incensed by this. I must have looked like I was going to throw up, I was that angry. Many parents in Egypt and other areas of the world apparently still believe that the act of mutilating their daughter’s body is doing the right thing. They believe that if their child does not have this “female circumcision” performed they won’t be able to find a husband, as not showing signs of the procedure is a sign of promiscuity. All of these parents we saw talking and almost championing FGM lived out in rural Egypt, where mothers and grandmothers had themselves been through the same procedure. My wife simply shook her head, saying one word: “education”. These families are growing up in an area that is living on ideals that are possibly centuries old. They say it’s part of their tradition, their religion, their culture. They are apparently completely untouched by the more “civilised” teachings of the modern westernised world. At this point I’d like to make a tenuous link back to the second story – Jimmy Saville was once a big part of our culture. Just as our society was wrong about him, why wouldn’t the advocates of this horrific FGM accept that they could be wrong too? Why can’t they see that this is harming their children?
These parents need to be educated on the reasons for FGM being made illegal, not just be told “stop doing it”. They need to understand that there are no medical benefits at all for this procedure, and that it can in fact cause lasting damage including infections, miscarriages and infertility. This information should be passed on by the country’s doctors, who are educated. It is their responsibility to not only deny this procedure to families, but also explain clearly and concisely why it is banned and the harm it would do. Sadly in many cases, this hasn’t been happening. Religion and tradition have their place in this world, but when it’s used as an excuse for terrorising and mutilating children, it becomes unforgivable. Why anyone would want to subject a child, their own or someone else’s, to a painful procedure that causes both physical and mental scarring, and even death is beyond me. It confounds the mind and if I’m honest brings a tear to the eye. The best possible outcome from 13-year-old Suharr’s tragic story would be that it raises so much awareness of the continuation of this barbaric procedure that it finally makes people stop. At least then her death won’t have been a pointless one.
I don’t ever remember seeing these kind of stories when I was a kid. If there were any stories like these, then my parents would have done everything to make sure I didn’t see it. Mind you, I’d have been too busy running around with a towel-turned-cape on my back pretending to fly and occasionally licking trees to even notice. I was a kid. That’s what kids are supposed to do! (Well maybe not that specifically but you get the idea!) They’re not meant to live every waking moment of their formative years under a shadow of fear. That’s something that no father, mother or even decent human being would want for a child.