Monday, 6 April 2009

Even in this tragic story one can find solace

If you have read The National's front-page story of horrific child abuse, you will know that an innocent nine-year-old girl carries scars beyond her single digit age. She is allegedly a victim of untold abuse and torture at home – from her stepmother and biological father – who came to the attention of the authorities when her father took her to a hospital claiming she had been in an accident on a bicycle.

Where is the humanity to be salvaged from this shocking and tragic story? I have always thought that not every person is fit to be a parent and that in an ideal world there would be a test for parenthood and even a licence. But I was thinking more of those ignorant parents who buckle up their seat belts while their children are standing on the seat in the car.

The sad truth is that biology does not necessarily imply compassion or care or even concern for the well-being of family members. As we have read all so often in recent months – remember the Fritzl case from Austria? Or the British father who shot his wife and daughter because his business was about to go bust? And similar incidents from around the world just last year alone– home is frequently where the hurt is.

All of these extreme cases remind us that abuse can happen anywhere and only a loving family and a watchful community can stop it.

The Holy Quran refers to compassion, not romanticised love, when it addresses how we should treat each other: human compassion for each other as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. So it is gratifying to know that along with our outrage, there are also causes for optimism and gratitude from what is alleged to have happened in Bani Yas. For a start, the girl was rescued, we are told, because of the compassion and concern of others.

This case highlights some of the many unsung heroes who reside in the UAE. The doctors in the Mafraq hospital could have just as easily treated the girl without questioning the story that was allegedly fabricated by her parents to explain the burn marks, the knife cuts and the bruises that covered her body. She fell off a bike, her father claimed. It was an accident, he claimed. Less diligent, less compassionate medical staff might easily have believed him.

Of course, this case has still to go to court. The parents have to explain their actions in front of judges and be given the chance to put their side of events. Until that happens we the public cannot deliver our verdict just on what we are told has happened.

But while we wait for the courts to do their work we can be reassured that in the UAE today there exists a higher moral authority that can in fact step in to protect citizens no matter what age they are and no matter in which corner of the country they reside. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and his daughter personally visited the girl in the hospital and ordered full medical attention to be given to save her life.

When I heard this, I realised that the UAE’s future is secure: our leaders and their families personify human values and do not delegate them by having others visit on their behalf. We also must not forget the doctors and inspectors who uncovered this crime.

Ultimately – and regardless of the outcome of a future court hearing – this case serves to remind any abusers who believe that they can get away with torturing others that the UAE will look after its people.

In a country with compassionate people like the doctors who reported the case, the police who persistently questioned the father, and the Sheikh and Sheikha whose hearts bled from their sadness, we can be sure that hope is in high supply.

The little girl lying in hospital knows no credit crunch, no global financial crisis or job losses, no shrinking economy or decline in the price of oil. Her fears have been much more real and immediate. They have been of abuse, of knife slashes, punches and slaps to the face, and even worse. Apparently, that was a parent’s idea of teaching a young girl a lesson.

To that little girl I say, be stubborn, be free, be alive.

*This article was first published in The National on April 6th 2009.

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