HONOUR KILLINGS

There is no honour in killing, so these chilling words are self contradictory.  They are the more so when parents kill their own child, and it is difficult to comprehend any culture, even the Stone Age, when such brutality could be condoned.

The conviction of the Ahmeds, originally from the foothills of Pakistan, is little consolation to their daughter Shafilea, who perished at their hands for failing to obey their medieval demands.  At the root of this despicable crime was Shafilea’s wish to live a Western life like her friends, and her refusal to be carted off to Pakistan to marry a complete stranger chosen for her by her ‘loving’ parents.

Arranged marriages are not the sole preserve of Middle Eastern illiterates.  Indeed, in the recent past we have had an example of an arranged marriage between the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.  It was certainly not a love match, as the Prince’s affections lay elsewhere, and had done so well before he married Diana.  Historically, the Royals chose their matches within their own narrow circle right up to our present Queen.  Her sister, Princess Margaret, entered her life destroying downward spiral when he was forbidden to marry Captain Townsend.  They loved each other, but he was unsuitable, and that was the end of it. The sad irony is that she ended up marrying a photographer, quite a good photographer by all accounts, but a photographer nonetheless, and that union ended in divorce.

Shafilea’s death has an all too familiar ring to it. Those who could have helped, didn’t, and I refer to her school, the police and the social services. All were found wanting when she needed them most.

The problem, in part, lies in our own belief of the sanctity of marriage and family life, where we believe somewhat naively that the first concept is inalienable from the second.  Couples who marry, live together and have children are rarely challenged within the family circle, and there are instances, too many by far, of parents badly abusing their children, and in some cases, killing them. In these cases, as with Shafilea, the police and the ‘caring’ agencies are slow to act, and often too late when they do. But these cases are usually the result of bad parenting, or the arrival of an abusive and manipulative boyfriend where the mother feels helpless to intervene.

We must be careful not to rush to judgment and hold up our own values as the only ones worth following, but equally, to treat ‘honour killing’ as somehow different and therefore excusable because it has its roots in another culture is wholly unacceptable, especially when the crime is committed in the United Kingdom where the Ahmeds had settled and made their home.

Some crimes are so heinous they offend all the precepts of a civilised society, and should never be tolerated.

ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL

Some of you may remember Pink Floyd’s infamous song Another brick in the wall, which sold millions of copies and, intentionally or otherwise, rubbished formal education. A visit to the lyrics reminds me of one line in particular: “Hey, teacher, leave us kids alone.”

Against this background, I read the report of a ‘dinner’ lady at a state primary school who rescued Chloe, a 7 year old girl who had been tied up and whipped across the legs by four boys in the playground. Although the incident was entered into the accident book, there was no mention of whipping, it was not reported to the girl’s parents and the boys went unpunished. No surprises there!

Shortly after the incident, the dinner lady saw the girl’s mother, who was obviously in the dark, and reported the incident to her. When the school found out, the dinner lady was immediately suspended, and subsequently dismissed for breaching “pupil confidentiality.” Don’t laugh, it’s too serious for that.

But it gets worse. When the incident became public knowledge, the school issued a statement:

“We can confirm that, subject to an appeal, the dinner lady will not be returning to work.” And now we descend into farce. “The school’s priority remains providing the best possible education to all of our pupils and ensuring their development and wellbeing. We will continue to deliver this on a daily basis.” Complete, arrant and unmitigated nonsense! Thank Zeus that the dinner lady is suing the school for wrongful dismissal, and if she doesn’t win her case, I’ll eat my wig!

I remember, many years ago, representing a primary school teacher, and in the course of the trial, the Head Mistress, who obviously sucked lemons for a living, produced a copy of the rule book with the dimensions of a telephone directory. No wonder teachers don’t have time to teach, they’re in meetings, digesting the latest set of rules, and government targets, and when to wear riot gear, instead of supervising breaks in the playground. Where was the supervising teacher when this incident was taking place?

I asked the Head Mistress, in a spirit of enquiry, when it would be appropriate for a teacher to touch a pupil. Never, came the curt reply. I pressed on. What happens if a pupil is seriously injured? Answer: the supervising teacher must call for the teacher designated as the ‘first aider’. Can the ‘first aider’ touch the injured pupil? No. What happens if the pupil is bleeding to death? We call an ambulance.

This disgraceful incident follows hard on the heels of the latest government initiative to ‘vet’ everybody who may come into contact with children. And the result? One of this country’s most popular authors of children’s books, who used to visit schools regularly to read stories to them, has been banned from doing so until he has been vetted. And today I read of two mothers, both close friends and work colleagues, who have been banned from looking after each other’s toddlers, an arrangement they reached to allow both of them to return to part time work.

Somewhere down the line, there must come a point where adults can interact with children in the hope that they are not branded as closet paedophiles. And what of the children, for whom all these ludicrous rules and regulations are intended to protect? What price the age of innocence, when children as young as toddlers are taught to distrust adults in all shapes and sizes?

It’s a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Far better to use the bath water to drown the idiots responsible for these ludicrous rules and regulations, and give our children a better life.