Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Protection v overreaction

The case of the two ten-year-old boys now convicted of the attempted rape of an eight-year-old girl is provoking a great deal of comment in Britain this morning. It seems if reports are true http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/7760986/Boys-convicted-of-attempted-rape-branded-criminals-for-playing-doctors-and-nurses.html
this may have been (although the evidence presented is so confused we simply do not know) little more than a game of 'doctors and nurses' which, like it or not, has always gone on among young children and, presumably, always will.
The case is an strange one, heard in the Crown Court (although with the usual rules of evidence suspended) rather than the juvenile court system, and appears at the very least to be a massive overreaction, but one with serious consequences and grave injustice for all those involved.
All of us who are parents are terrified of failing our children, of not protecting them enough from the dangers of the world outside. As a society we are preoccupied with the appalling scourge of child abuse which seems to have been of a far greater magnitude than any of us imagined.
But certain questions should be asked in the light of this particular case. In whose best interests is it to try children in an adult court for something which could so easily have been dealt with at a lower level, if it needed to come to trial at all?  In whose interests is it for these two children to be criminalised and included on a sex offences register, something which will undoubtedly destroy their lives and those of their parents? In whose interests is it to put an eight-year-old girl through a terrifying legal ordeal as a result of an incident the seriousness of which she seems to be have been quite unaware and the details of which she may even have exaggerated?
This all adds up to a worrying series of errors; we have witnessed repeated abdications of responsibilty, and a truly  frightening loss of nerve on the the part of the criminal justice system.
We are also guilty of  hypocrisy on a grand scale. We bombard our children and young people with 'adult' sexually explicit messages, because for the elites who run our western societies the worst of all crimes appears to be censorship - that kind of censorship anyway. We are in the process of inventing a secularised and largely experimental code of values which, it seems, no one in the adult world (least of all the 'iconic' celebrities held up as society's role models) has any intention of living by, and we expect our children to be unaffected and unharmed by what they all too clearly see and hear going on around them.
Obviously it's not all doom and gloom, but we are clearly failing our children in so many ways. Compared to the recent past, this is not a good time in which to be growing up.
We seem to want to be our children's friends and best mates rather than their parents. We are terrified of seeming fuddy-duddy or repressive. We shrink from imposing rules and boundaries. The worst of our schools settle for being exercises in crowd control and family life, however we choose to define it, is increasingly impermanent, fragmented and confusing. Sexual imagery is everywhere - it sells things, we are told - and children are taught to imitate their elders in all kinds of unnecessary ways. Even our primary schools hold 'discos' for seven-year-olds who are encouraged to (under)dress and behave not like level-headed children but irresponsible adults. Silly mothers even in largely 'middle class' primary school playgrounds (I've heard them) encourage their precious offspring to pair off and to date each other, and we wonder why childhood disappears and the consequences of adult behaviour fall heavily on the immature shoulders of those who are completely unable to deal with them.
"We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased."
 G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 9

This is relevant. We can argue over the conclusions but the analysis is compelling
Biretta tip to A Conservative Blog for Peace

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