Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Huge horror buried in small news story

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Horrors carried out behind closed doors test the fragility of a child's life. Photo / Thinkstock
Horrors carried out behind closed doors test the fragility of a child's life. Photo / Thinkstock

While much of the country is, rightly, focused on the terrible event at Pike River Mine, other news appears. Sometimes it is squeezed into a small space in the newspaper, so buried that it would seem to be almost worth glancing over.

I wish I had glanced over it without reading it. But in fact, after reading that a Whanganui man that kicked a two year old to death was found guilty of the boy's murder in Tuesday's paper, I could think about nothing else all day.

As I read with a resigned horror of this crime - and let's be honest, it hardly seems spectacular or outstanding any more for young Kiwi children to die violently at the hands of their caregivers - there was a fact about it that really stuck in my head.

On the day he died, the young boy woke up from a sleep on the couch and found he had wet it. He was trying to rub the wet patch away when discovered, grabbed by the scruff of the neck and struck against a coffee table.

When the boy then had the temerity to emerge from the toilet 10 minutes later with toilet paper in his hand, he was "round-house" kicked across the room, and died of internal injuries.

As awful as that is, the horrible thought that haunted me all day was this: a normal two year old doesn't care, much less notice, when the inevitable toilet training accident occurs.

I have a two year old, and I can testify that if she ever woke up wet from a sleep - say, if we'd forgotten to put a nappy on her - she'd hardly miss a beat, let alone be frantically rubbing away a wet patch.

The only child that would do this is one that is terrified of the consequences. At the age of two, that is a pretty precocious terror.

One quickly goes from feeling horrified to hopeless, almost incapacitated with despair at the thought of the environment that produced a two-year-old child so afraid.

I had to attend a Plunket meeting later that night, and as I reflected on a year's worth of frantic fundraising in a reasonably wealthy enclave of Auckland, I wondered if we as an organisation - or we as a society - would ever really be able to make a jot of difference to the households in which children are used as punching bags - be they rich, or poor.

It is natural to blame the caregivers, of course, and I would be the first to say anyone who has done this to a child should lose the right to ever be around children again.

But I also believe strongly that part of the problem is one of short term vision by a succession of policy makers, where funding to preschoolers is effectively seen as "nice-to-have", but not essential.

For example, in my years as a volunteer for Plunket we have had to raise funds for heaters, measuring tables and clerical help for our nurses, who are already overburdened with work.

It's a mystery why this service, which actually goes into the homes of babies and toddlers and can see firsthand the conditions in which a child is being raised, is so underfunded by our tax dollars.

Then there's the cuts now pending for 20 free hours of preschool for three- and four-year-olds, making it even harder for children to receive this vital lifeline to the world outside their home.

Then there's a de-emphasis on trained preschool teachers. On it goes.

Finally, there's a deafening silence about just how important to everyone the safety and support of our youngest children really is.

Proper support may also mean actively, with paid help, supporting all families with young children, but that really is a pipe-dream, because we can't seem to ever fully afford it.

Meanwhile, unfortunate young children, off the radar of care for whatever reason, can live in a situation so terrifying that at two years of age, they fear violence if they wet their pants.

A justified fear, as it turned out, in the case of little Karl Perigo-Check.

Note: Due to the violent nature of this story and many of the replies received so far, the comment feature has been removed from this article. We have however, selected a small number of comments for publication below.

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