Thursday, January 15, 2009
On advocacy, abuse, enemies and justice
When I was in residency I pursued child advocacy as an essential aspect of pediatric care. Sometimes a child's doctor might be the only adult who sees the neediness of his or her life, and the only voice to call for help. Today Heidi and I were able to see that in action right here in Nyahuka. We had called our local "child protection officer" about the little girl Lydia who was admitted last month with a severely burned hand while in the custody of her paternal grandparents. The protection officer delegated the case to an energetic and articulate young woman whose role as "assistant community development officer" on our new Nyahuka Town Council seemed to infer the authority we needed. So we found ourselves on benches in the treatment room shoulder to shoulder with Lydia's teenage mother and her cousin-brothers on one side, and Lydia's paternal grandfather and aunts on the other. The grandfather gave his story of the injury (it was an accident and Lydia's fault because she was impatiently hungry and stuck her hand in boiling water to pull out a cooking banana), and then her young mother gave the story she had heard from this nearly-3-year old child (she was teased and goaded into trying to put her hand in the boiling water, but refused, so un-named persons at the home forced her hand in). Medically the evidence fits the latter. The officer then gave the grandfather the option of returning the girl to her mother's care and paying a monthly assistance, or of going to court. There was much wrangling negotiation which took the better part of an hour, mostly based on everyone's assumption that the primary need in the family was for the grandfather to successfully pay the school fees for the absent young father so he could return with income to care for the two kids he has fathered with this young woman (I was the lone advocate for stopping his schooling and allowing him to face the consequences of his choices as a severe mercy). In the end the grandfather wrote out a statement that he would pay a certain amount through the Town Council office monthly, and that Lydia's mother would take her and her sister home to her relatives. This is only one small story of abuse and justice. And I'm sure I've incurred some new enemies by speaking out. But I have real hope that attitudes and expectations are changing, and responsibility is being required. Let us pray.