Friday, December 05, 2008

Surely there can be few things more iniquitous?

Today's UK newspapers are almost all leading with stories of the case of Shannon Matthews - possibly because of a Panorama on the subject on TV last night.

When this little girl went missing in February of this year, my heart ached for her mother, Karen. Like many other mothers (and probably several fathers) I was moved to tears by her emotional appeal for the return of her daughter on television, and the constant replay of her call to the emergency services (apologies for the entirely inappropriate advert on the front end - I can do nothing about that!)

As the days passed, I told my husband with grim certainty, "They're going to find a body."

I was wrong.

She was found alive less than a mile from her home 24 days after her disappearance. She had been kept drugged and possibly tethered in the home of a man alleged at the time to be a paedophile. It transpired that he was the uncle of Karen's partner.

When the child was not restored to her home once she had been found, alarm bells began to go off. People who had given of their time and money searching for the missing girl became suspicious that there was more going on that met the eye.

It has now transpired that Karen had been an abusive mother who had arranged to have Shannon kidnapped in a bid to get her hands on some reward money. She had intended for Shannon to be the 'new Maddy'.

Neighbours are feeling betrayed and abused. Some of them went on marches, had T-shirts printed, conducted private searches and held candle-lit vigils with the woman who knew all along exactly where her child was.

This is a betrayal of trust on the most fundamental level. Not the trust of the neighbours. By comparison, that is small fry. The trust of the child.

I am incoherent with rage, for which I apologise. No child asks to be born, and when they are, those who are tasked with a duty of care towards that child need to step up to the oche... or make alternative arrangements. Children are not a means to an end.

One newspaper alleges that Karen Matthews referred to her children as a means to get her hands on 'benefits' (in the UK, parents are provided with a small sum of money each week for each child in their care - in spite of our relative affluence, and my non-native status, even I receive this amount of money each week for my two boys).

In the aftermath of the Shannon Matthews story, much has been made of the issue of the British 'underclasses'. There is a great deal of 'well, what else can you expect from people like that?' in the plethora of YouTube compilations on the subject. To my mind, this is not the point, and it does enormous disservice to those whose circumstances place them in such estates, where they are doing their level best to play the hand they have been dealt and to provide for their families.

My hope is that, in the right caring environment, with adequate counselling, this little girl can overcome this unspeakable betrayal and fulfill her potential in life.

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