I recently watched a Jane Goodall video that featured Koko the gorilla and a little kitten the gorilla had adopted. Touched by Koko’s gentle care of the kitten, it occurred to me that some humans could learn a thing or two when it comes to caring for their young. Shortly after seeing this video I was out for a walk and watched amused as a mother duck guided fifteen or sixteen chicks across the road, making sure that she waited for the last one to pass safely. Her large brood had obviously included at least one other duck family. Adopted broods are actually quite common in the animal kingdom, and communal care of the young runs across many species. Witness the protective instincts of an elephant herd or a troop of chimpanzees and you’ll see what I mean. So how is it that we humans seem to fail our children so often and in so many ways?
In my novel, Black Bones, Red Earth, the plight of children and their treatment by an unjust society is central to the narrative. Firstly, with the central character who is transported to Australia as part of the British child migration program, and secondly, with the Aboriginal characters who have suffered cruelly, separated from parents and siblings, abused by those entrusted with their care. In researching the background for the book, I was horrified by the many true stories and total disregard for the children’s welfare. Often treated like goods to be traded, these children endured traumas that have left them scarred for life. We’re not talking ancient history here, these policies were being practiced into the 1960s.
Recent events in Canada have exposed even greater abuse of care. Hundreds of hidden graves have been discovered in the grounds of compulsory schools for Indigenous children, schools that have been operated by churches and government well into the 1980s. Like their Australian equivalents, these mission schools were set up to integrate the indigenous children into society. In reality, they were set up to extinguish the traditions and culture of the native inhabitants of conquered lands. Similar missions, reserves and schools were established across North America and in other colonial settlements, many in the name of religious indoctrination. Systemic abuse of children has been well documented under the cover of governments and religions around the world.
It’s not just institutionalised mistreatment of vulnerable children that flourish unchecked. Every conflict and war generates a new flood of child victims. Always caught in the middle, they suffer most because they have no power over their lives during these conflicts. Collateral damage, they count for little in decisions made by military leaders. In parts of Africa, children are conscripted into fighting with armed militia at 10 years of age and even younger. Forced to kill or be killed, they are traumatised for life, even if they do live to be adults. Child trafficking is rife around the world. According to World Vision, an estimated 6 million children are being trafficked today. Children suffer daily from violence, sexual abuse, malnutrition, neglect and mental trauma, yet the efforts to protect them is and always has been pitiful at best.
In a statement about the discoveries in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” by the discovery. He said it was “a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced”. Shameful is an understatement. Maybe we should all be ashamed that in this age of so-called “civilization”, we can’t, as a species, protect our most vulnerable. I’ve heard it said that those who commit crimes against children are animals. I beg to differ, animals don’t treat their children with such cruelty.
I beg to differ, animals don’t treat there children with such cruelty