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Should parents be punished for child neglect?

CHILDREN being left alone in the car is child neglect. Yes, that is hard to accept. Often parents say they have no choice and that it’s just for a minute.

But in that minute you could lose your child. It has happened. It is often a case of bad judgment, and the parents will have to live with that for the rest of their lives.

Should parents then be threatened with legal action?

Must it come to this, to get parents to be better parents? Aren’t they punished enough when they lose a child? Surely the pain of loss is more than enough punishment for any parent.

This is a tough topic to tackle because firstly parents very often already feel that they are being judged – by their own family members, their friends, society at large and other parents.

But to take it to court is almost like the modern day “tar and feather” effect – everyone in your country will know you “neglected” your child and you would be labelled a “bad parent”.

Mum of two and teacher Bridget Emily Mowe believes that stern action should be taken against parents for neglect.

“Right now, most parents are taking things too lightly. If it’s proven that the parent is responsible, then legal action should be taken. I think parents should be punished so that other parents would be on high alert,” she says.

“I agree 100% that accidents happen and that nobody is perfect. If it was an accident, then we should move on. But if it was done purposely then they should have action taken against them.

“I am always concerned about safety because of a fear of losing my children, or just the thought of anything bad happening to them when I am not around. I love them too much,” says Bridget.

She suggests that the community help out by having more security guards stationed at crowded places like malls and also at public restrooms.

Psychologist and family therapist Ivy Tan believes that legal action should be taken not just against parents, but caregivers and guardians too if they are found guilty of neglect.

She points out that in the United States, the mere fact of exposing your child to endangerment gets you in trouble. It doesn’t necessarily need to have caused injury. Just the action of exposing your child to harm would criminalise you.

In California, under the Unattended Child in Motor Vehicle Act “Kaitlyn’s Law” parents would be prosecuted when if expose they children in “conditions that present a significant risk to the child’s health and safety” or “when the vehicle’s engine is running or the vehicle’s keys are in the ignition, or both.”

“I do empathise that sometimes it may be a matter of inconvenience for a parent to bring their children in and out of the car or to wake the baby up to grab something quick. The easier option would be to leave the child in the car, or even with an older child/sibling. It’s certainly more appealing – no heavy lifting, a happier baby and a less-frazzled mum or dad.

“But what if something happened? Would you blame yourself for taking that option? Would you be able to live with that guilt?” asks Ivy.

Unfortunately, in such cases, parents have to learn the hard way.

Many times we have seen the photographs in the newspapers of the heartbroken parents weeping inconsolably.

While we sympathise with them, the question that begs to be asked is: Why did they take the option of leaving their child alone in the car or allow their child to go to the shops alone, even after other parents have done it in the past and lost their children?

Why is it still happening today?

Nothing can be done after the fact. So, why even take the chance if there is even the smallest risk of losing your child?

The agony and heartbreak of losing a child is something parents will never recover from.

Their lives will never be the same again.

The remorse will live with them forever.

So, isn’t the pain of child loss enough “punishment” for a parent? Why punish them more with legal action? Shouldn’t the fear of losing a child be enough to make them more vigilant and less negligent?

How can any law make them better parents, when love for the child can’t?

“At times, I truly believe that there may be circumstances that overwhelmed the parents and their thoughts and actions got carried into whatever they were worrying or ruminating about and thus, they ‘neglected’ their child.

“To empathise, we could separate the action from the person. The mother/father could be a very loving parent. However, it was a lapse of judgment and the action got them into trouble.

And for whatever actions they had performed, consequences follow.

“It is fair to say that we are angry and upset at what the parents did but it doesn’t mean that he/she needs to be ‘stoned’ for it!

“There’s no guidebook or manual on teaching a parent how to be a parent. We have many other teaching manuals but none solely for teaching a parent to parent! It takes experience and mastery over the course of being a father or a mother. What we can accept is acceptance of responsibility of fault, remorse, and a second chance to make it right. In the words of Maya Angelou, when you know better, you do better,” says Ivy.

She believes that having the laws in place and a strict enforcement of them can and will

make parents more vigilant.

Punishment, she says, could be in the form of attending certain hours of parenting courses/class with regards to child safety and community service would be beneficial aside from monetary and imprisonment.

“No parents ever want to be judged as bad parents. I believe they would not in any way wish to harm their child. Hopefully, stricter laws and enforcement would be able to remind parents about being vigilant and take child safety seriously,” she adds.

Ivy believes Malaysia should follow the example of countries like England, Australia and the US where more emphasis is placed on children’s rights and protecting the child, even from their own parents.

“We can model or adopt laws that have been successfully implemented to prevent corporal punishment and neglect. However, we also have to take into consideration our culture and how our society functions.

“The law can help to prevent parents from ‘neglecting’ their kids but it may not necessarily stop some parents from doing it. Likewise for corporal punishment – the law may not necessarily be successful at stopping corporal punishment, but it could definitely create awareness and boundaries to parents who practise it—by drawing a line between what is acceptable and not,” she says.

At the end of the day, the child should always be the priority.

If a parent is rushing and has not enough time or can’t take the child with them into the shop, then perhaps, leave that errand for another day.

Imagine the worst thing that could happen – and let that be the reason you do not “neglect” your child.

Yes, it may seem to border on paranoia. But when you take into account that it has happened to other parents before, why take the risk?

Isn’t your child’s life more precious and the priority over getting that item from the store while you leave him alone in the car?

And, if all else fails, yes, perhaps it’s time for the law to step in to protect the child.

Article republished from Brigitte Rozario (10 June 2014, ThotsnTots)


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