Protection of vulnerable groups

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

A series of laws and a specific court dedicated to settle child-related issues mark a significant step forward in the protection of minors against social ills and against themselves.

The psychological and sociological aspects of issues relating to youngsters, both as victims and perpetrators of violence, are taken into account as well as the need for a proper training of all officers and carers who handle such issues. Cooperation of the University of Mauritius in a deeper analysis of the laws and their implementation send a positive message of different protagonists working together for a more understanding, inclusive and harmonious approach to social ills which concern all segments of society.

Breaking silence over harsh corporal punishments, physical violence and sexual abuse of minors they have been subjected to for decades within the precincts of their homes more often is, in itself, a long-awaited stance, and provides the basis for the elaboration of an effective policy to protect young victims. About 18 years ago the horrendous rape and killing of a seven-year-old girl by a drunk uncle at Grand River North West sent shockwaves across the country. There was also the case of a man slitting the throat of his neighbour’s son for allegedly bullying his son at school. A mother flew into a rage and thrashed her ten-year-old daughter to death for spending too much time over her meal during the lockdown in 2020. A few months later, a five-year old boy died from the blows inflicted on him by his mother and stepfather. The latter would have got away with it if a relative had not alerted the police.

There is no denying that lifting the veil over taboos starts with acknowledging verbally that something wrong is happening around you, and you should name and divulge it to the public. Is it not also a moral duty to pay tribute to past victims, men, women and children whose murder went unreported?

The authorities must be fully aware that it is going to be an uphill battle to have children speak out on sexual abuse or attempts of sexual assault by adults amongst close relatives. Since the early years of infancy, the crucial formative years, children grow up to trust adults as fatherly figures, protectors and righteous persons. Hence, their confusion and silence on physical abuse in the form of corporal punishments and sexual offences which they submit to in a spirit of obedience and submission.

An awareness campaign aimed at sensitizing one and all on social ills children are victims of and cooperation with the authorities to identify perpetrators of violence and alerting the police is indeed indispensable to create a child-friendly environment for youngsters’ rights to security and dignity.

Teen pregnancy and its disastrous impact on the lives of girls, and what it costs in terms of public funds in terms of aid should be everyone’s concerns. In some cases, it is not only a matter of unsupervised teens who need parental guidance, but largely of how much coaching their parents need before starting a family and taking responsibility for the well-being of their children, instilling values and discernment on what is acceptable or not in society, and empowering them to be responsible as future young adults.

In other words, how do you try to address the fact that 40–50-year-old parents, and much beyond that age, who deeply lack maturity and so-called ‘values’ replicate the same pattern in their families? Real examples of fish rotting from the head, if anything!

Protecting minors from themselves is the other key objective of the series of new laws. Teens who display anti-social behaviour, commit offences and are prone to violence have come in the limelight during the past fifteen years or so. Needless to remind folks that children as victims and also as perpetrators of violence is a global phenomenon which affects advanced and developing countries, where lots of barriers are broken on the road of emancipation of the individual citizens from the restrictions enforced upon them in traditional societies. It is nothing specific to the local situation in Mauritius however much the same discourse on ethics, morals and capacity for discernment is observed in official circles, repeated and aired in the media, and sometimes noisily politicized on private radios which are addicted to spreading blame and self-flagellation.

Poetic tribute to children’s purity in the ‘Songs of Innocence’ written by William Blake reflected the genuine belief of society at large in the unsullied image of children. The well-entrenched vision took a severe blow with William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ which depicts how a group of children who get strayed in an uninhabited island, away from society’s laws, evolve into bullies and aggressors, and finally commit a series of crimes on their peers. The novel shocked British society at large and raised an outcry. The writer was sent to jail for some time in the 1950s, about 70 years ago. Not a faraway past. About two decades ago we had our first Lord of the Flies scenario in a village with two or three boys who tied up a poor boy from their neighbourhood to a tree and burnt him.

‘Insultes à caractère sexiste’ is part of the package that aims to drag minors to the Children’s Court. We are just wondering if these insults are going to be spotted on social media networks or everywhere in public places. As things stand, you hear adults, not only teens, pour out such insults without any restraint on their phones at bus-stops, in buses and in the streets. If the authorities were to go after every citizen for insulting others, there would be quite a pretty crowd at the Court!

What matters is that despite the awareness that the root of the evil requires an all-encompassing study of the issue. The new laws lay out the diagnosis and solutions and constitute a major breakthrough in the policy of promoting understanding and tackling social evils from all angles, using modern psychology and sociology in a society with a high propensity for being judgmental.

* Published in print edition on 4 February 2022

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