Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The policy of separating children from their parents

This week the world learned that the US is tearing children away from their parents and locking them in cages. If I’d read that sentence a week ago I’d have thought it was an exaggeration, but now we’ve seen the videos and the pictures. It's a political policy, become real.

The country has left the UN Human Right’s Council, and made a firm stand that it genuinely doesn’t give a crap about human rights.

Disabled children are being left with no support, toddlers are wailing for their mothers and given no comfort. The euphemism ‘tender age shelters’ is used for institutions housing children under five who are hysterical and distraught. It’s so horrible, I don’t really have the words, just tears. But I’m trying to find them.

There’s a horrible irony that the country founded and populated almost entirely by immigrants, is the one that takes the harshest stance on letting people in. Let’s not forget that a lot of these people are fleeing violence and terror. They’re not flooding into the US just because they like hamburgers or fancy a trip to Vegas.  

I wrote a doctorate about the subject of separating children from their parents. Basically my research found that it’s bloody obvious that children need their parents, and it’s been bloody obvious for a really long time – like at least 160 years. It used more academic language and there was like, evidence and proof and that type of thing. But that was the gist.

Photo by Gary Robson via Flickr Creative Commons

Once upon a time

Here’s an unrelated story about a mother and daughter living a comfortable, privileged life.
My small daughter spent last weekend away with her father. They have a good, loving relationship. Come Monday morning, she’d just got me, her mum, back, and we had to say goodbye again when she went to nursery and I went to work. Normally she runs off to her friends happily, but on this day she didn’t want to let me go. I left, because I had to and I watched with relief (and sadness) as her nursery teacher scooped her up into a cuddle and with reassuring words carried her into nursery.

I’m telling you this story, because it shows how hard children find separation from their parents. My daughter was in familiar places with people she knows really well. But still letting go of her mother was difficult.

So I imagine us being in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and her being taken from me. Saying good bye and not knowing when she would see me again. And not having the familiar friendly nursery teacher to cuddle and reassure her. To have no one, just a foil blanket. And for the parents, the agony of knowing that your small, vulnerable child is out there, alone and scared. Crying and wailing with no one to wrap their arms around them.

Forced separation

Forced separation is torture for a mother and child. I’m not being glib. The level of emotional damage it has for the child and the agony for the parent means it constitutes an act of torture, to both of them. Studies have shown you can fulfil a young child’s physical needs, given it food, water and shelter, but unless you meet it’s emotional needs, with comfort and love, it will just fade away and die.

I heard a news report of a poll that said that most Americans disagreed with the policy of separating families in the immigration process – around 66%. I’m sorry? Only 66%? Because that means that 34% of Americans think it’s OK, or don’t care. So now I am screaming at America. HOW CAN YOU NOT CARE ABOUT THIS? HOW CAN THIS BE OK?  

Changing the policy

As I write I’m watching updates bringing in new laws to stop the practice. And that's good. But we all know why this is suddenly happening – the pictures and audio of crying children have gone around the world and the US government is suddenly in the midst of a PR crisis. So they make a swift about turn, and of course blame the previous government. Because politics is a game, to those that play it. But the pieces are real people and their lives and their children.

I hope this does stop this awful thing from happening. But what about the children who have already been separated? More than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents. Will they be immediately reunited? I doubt it will be that efficient. And if and when they are reunited then that isn’t an end to it. That’s 2,300 children who’ve suffered severe and lasting trauma. They’re not going to be OK. Some will be resilient, but for others this experience will never leave them.

Those of who live safe and comfortable lives are so lucky. But we could easily have been born in another place. That four-year-old taken from her mother could have been my beautiful, precious four-year-old. That's what I think when I see the pictures. And if it was me I would want the world to stamp and scream on my behalf until I got my baby back. And stop this happening to other people. 

We know this is a bad thing to do. We know it in our heads, from endless studies and academic research, and we know it in our hearts, from seeing and feeling. Please make it stop.