Thought for the Day - 28/08/2014 - Anne Atkins

It beggars belief. Fourteen hundred children. Repeated rapes. Beatings, petrol, terror.

Evil can exist anywhere and we’ll never stamp out all crime. What is even more shocking is authorities ignoring reports, destroying evidence, dismissing the illegal exploitation of children as legal consensual relationships. How is this possible, in the civilised liberal democracy we’re so proud of? Nobody could have heard the stunning interview with “Emma” yesterday without horror at the way she was ignored.

Happily, most of us don’t inflict such dreadful consequences when we don’t listen. Nevertheless, if we’re honest we often commit the same sin, disregarding children simply because that’s who they are.

When my husband Shaun was Vicar, people often approached him and launched into conversation after church. They didn’t mean to be rude. They simply didn’t notice he was already talking to a child... all but invisible, they’re so unimportant.

Which of us hasn’t heard a child put forward an idea, completely passed over by everyone... until a grownup suggests the very same thing, and it’s suddenly the solution.

I pride myself on liking children, but I’ve been guilty of far worse. Our ten year old hinted he was unhappy at school. I went to see staff at every level, concluding at the top. All said my son was fine and there was nothing to worry about. They must know: they are professionals, they are there. Even I didn’t listen... until our son nearly killed himself.

Even in this age of so-called child-centred culture it’s commonplace to treat children as mistaken, unimportant, simply wrong. The child protagonist of my first novel was called Cassandra, the prophetess doomed to be ignored, so much does this seem to me to epitomise the experience of childhood.

Sometimes it’s not just because of their age. A third of the children in Rotherham were known to social workers. As similar cases in Oxford and Rochdale showed, social vulnerability also invites apathy and prejudice. She asked for it: we needn’t intervene. Her conduct invited it: we don’t have to interfere. Repeatedly, it has been found that looked-after children are more likely to be targeted and less likely listened to even than other children.

Whatever a child’s background – or behaviour – the law says she should be safe from sex. Underage girls must never be required to prove coercion in order to have protection.

All major faiths teach respect for the insignificant and unimportant.

We must become as humble as this child, said the Teacher. His followers were disapproving. Why were people bothering Him with pesky children, to be fussed over and prayed for? “Let them come,” He said. “The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”

The girls in Rotherham didn’t have a vote. Events showed they didn’t even have a voice. By contrast Jesus awards children citizenship.

The least we could give them is a hearing.

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