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‘Society cannot ignore child abandonment’
BY Mariecar Jara-Puyod July 11, 2018
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DUBAI: As majority of governments have ratified the 1990 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)-191 of 194 states parties—child abandonment and neglect must be an open topic freely discussed in order not only to mitigate incidents but also to decrease life-threatening consequences proved to be repetitive and inter-generational.

The UNCRC incorporates 54 Articles that enumerate all the rights and privileges of children under 18 years old.

Specifically Article 27 states, “Every child has the right to food, clothing, a safe place to live and to have his basic needs met. A child must not be disadvantaged so that he cannot do many of the things other kids can do.”

Interviewed separately amidst the observed rising cases of child abandonment and neglect as aftermath of widespread socio-economic-political challenges around the world, psychologist-counselor-educator Dr. Neda Jude Salazar and child/adolescent psychiatrist Dr Saqib Latif shared the opinion for free discussions.

Both cited cases they had personally handled and taken care of.

American Centre Psychiatry & Neurology-Abu Dhabi owner/manager Latif defined child abandonment as a “severe form of neglect wherein parents relinquish their responsibility on a more permanent basis.”

The causes may be unwanted pregnancy, serious mental illness, substance abuse, fear of shame, social and financial reasons, wars and conflicts.

Higher Colleges Technology assistant professor/Psychological Society of the Philippines-UAE Chapter board member Salazar used the term “parental abandonment.”

Salazar described the situation as either the mother or the father or both “being out of the picture wilfully cutting off contact or responsibilities due to marital and family disputes, separation, divorce and inadequacy.”

Meanwhile, as of April 2018 and according to records of various international and regional bodies, 153 million children worldwide are orphans, 168 million are child labourers, 263 million are out-of-school youth, 69 million are malnourished, 66 million primary school-aged children attend classes hungry, 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children in Europe are missing, and over 250 million children live in conflict or disaster areas.  

On asylum seekers, Latif, in the UK for over 14 years, shared the story of a boy, 14, who slowly opened up after receiving “specialist support and the fulfilment of his basic needs.” 

The young Afghan was sent away by his family “for fear of his safety even though they had no surety if he would ever reach any safe place or not.”

He arrived in the UK by staying at the back of a truck without any food and water, slept all day and was awake all night, “extremely anxious with high alert levels constantly watching all those weeks of travel if he was going to get caught by (authorities).”

On dysfunctional families, Latif encountered the case of a Caucasian girl, 15,  abused and tormented by strangers she had met on the road and nearly died when found by police walking nowhere in the middle of the highway.

The girl was from a family of six on welfare. She escaped home when their father abandoned them to find happiness elsewhere. Their welfare money was all spent for the cannabis addiction of their mother who failed to be the nurturing figure.

Similarly, Salazar worked on the case of a family of five whose mother became schizophrenic when the eldest turned six years old and all the younger three children were born when she was already undergoing treatment.

The businessman father had no time for the family, left them with his mother and children and eventually found another woman.

Salazar said, “Children suffered from maladjustment issues and the younger two suffered from schizophrenia and fits of bipolar disorders.”

Salazar’s other case was of children into “high risk behaviour with the eldest having several affairs, suffering from episodes of depression and autoimmune diseases.”

The cause was a broken home. The father and the mother separated because of adultery. The children were left in the care of the abusive paternal grandmother. The father became a philanderer.

Salazar said that in both cases, her counsellees were both women who had sought her assistance having been through pressing issues and concerns as a result of child abandonment and neglect.

“It was childhood trauma. They had difficulty adjusting and coping with life, suffering from emotional and health issues.”

She referred to the “huge study” of the Kaiser Permanente and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Adverse Childhood Experiences which demonstrated that heart ailments, diabetes, cancer, depression, alcoholism, addiction, abuse and early death could also stem from “early childhood adversities and toxic stress.”

Salazar explained, “Childhood adversity disrupts the child’s fragile brain development which alters the architecture, structural development, and the biochemistry of the brain causing very high level stress hormones, suppressing the immune system, causing inflammation and susceptibility to diseases.”

Salazar pointed out that abandoned/neglected children may be unable to cope due to their lack of resilience, impulsiveness and lower emotional intelligence.

She said child abandonment and neglect must not remain unspoken of.

Latif said it is highly possible that even abandoned/neglected children below age five would be able to overcome all harshness, obtain well-rounded personalities and become productive individuals if and when eventually surrounded with patient, understanding, supportive and loving individuals.

Latif said, “Parenting does not come in a manual. Belief in a Higher Being and the power of one’s faith have been a protective factor for some.

He also said, “Society needs to be open and understand and support struggling parents and families. This must not be a taboo in any society as low level child neglect happens in every society, every parent struggles at different stages of child development, some level of chastisement or physical abuse is also prevalent in every culture.”

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