May 10, 2009

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

I'd rather be a mother than anyone on earth,
Bringing up a child or two of unpretentious birth.
I'd rather tuck a little child all safe and sound in bed,
Than twine a chain of diamonds about my carefree head.
I'd rather wash a smudgy face with round bright baby eyes,
Than paint the pageantry of fame or walk among the wise.
(Meredith Gray)

Zaputou Angami felicitated at the CNN-IBN and RIL "Real Heroes 2009" initiative

She is 85 and has mothered 81 children. One, her biological daughter. And the others, abandoned children from the insurgency-hit North East. She is Zaputou Angami, the Founder of the Kohima Orphanage in Nagaland's capital.

It all began in 1973 with one child. Zaputou was a nurse at the Government Hospital in Kohima when she brought home a baby abandoned by his parents. From that moment on, there was no looking back. Zaputou had brought home seven children when it hit her. She wondered how and why so many babies did not have parents.

Zaputou found herself to be very happy in the children's company. She found the job of feeding hungry mouths and singing to sleepy eyes and tending to injured knees to be more rewarding than any other job she wold ever do. The rest, as they say, is history.

To say it has been easy for Zaputou, or that life has been kind to her and her children, would be an insult to what this great mother has done and continues to do. She has seen days when there wasn't a paisa in her pocket but there were mouths to feed. She has seen nights when insects ravaged tiny bodies that only wished to sleep but there was nothing that could be done. She has also seen times when illness rampaged across the orphanage, and all that she could give to the children was her love.

37 years later, the road remains as difficult. Yet, Zaputuo has never thought twice about her journey. In insurgency-torn Nagaland, the Kohima Orphanage stands as a symbol of love and strength for children without a home. Amidst all the hate and the killings and the unrest, here is a place where life and hope abounds, where a goodnight kiss can wipe away tears of strife, where the strains of a lullaby can silence the loudest of bombs.

Zaputou's home runs on help that comes in bits and pieces from the state government, well-wishers, the church and the Assam Rifles. Today, a total of 80 children - from across Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and even Myanmar - are all proud members of Kohima Orphanage. Also with Zaputou is her own daughter Nebunuo, who smilingly supports her mother in the best and worst of times.

Sometimes, in this certain yet uncertain life for Zaputou and her children comes the time of presents and cakes and songs - a time all the little ones look forward to for simple joys. Beyond all this, the truth remains that this home survives on meals and clothes donated by people. Yet, unperturbed and undaunted, two brave and loving mothers - Zaputou and Nebanuo - continue on with the calling of their life, day after day.

Today, on Mother's Day, I pay homage to Zaputou and the many women like her around the world - who define motherhood in the true sense. Who are mothers not only because biology made them so, but also because they possess the grit and strength that only a mother can, and the will to not merely survive but actually live against all odds.

Happy Mother's Day, Mother!

Picture courtesy:

May 1, 2009

Being 9, a girl, ... and PREGNANT!

Brazil is home to coffee, carnivals, Pele, and the most number of Catholics in the world. It is also home to a 9-year-old child pregnant with twins. Till recently a sprightly and bright child, she was raped and impregnated by her stepfather. Doctors warned that she was not developed enough to carry forth a pregnancy, much less twins. In fact, not only was the child not physically developed to carry a pregnancy to term, but any attempt to do so would have jeopardized her life. The child herself weighed only 80 pounds.

Defying all rational thought, and in a declaration that would scare the daylights out of any sane individual, the Catholic Church declared the decision to abort the foetuses as amounting to 'murder'. Although abortion is illegal in Brazil, there are exceptions - and this case certainly qualified. Unfortunately, the child has now been labeled a murderer. I can not help but wonder how furtive glances of pity and shame would affect her as she attempts to build her life over the years with the weight of what she has already endured on her heart.

Then there is the man who raped her. He is in jail and will hopefully endure severe repercussions once he is convicted, although that may not be likely. Brazil's laws on rape would have been laughable had the situation not been so grim. Rape in this country is considered a crime only if the victim is a virgin or 'an otherwise noble woman'. Not surprisingly, the term 'noble' is not defined in the country's law books and is left to the imagination. Moreover, rape of a virgin whose age is between 14 and 18 is only punishable by 6 years in jail. Victims only begin to recover after 6 years; in Brazil they would be forced to live with the reality of once again running into their rapist on the streets. Again, kidnap and subsequent rape of a woman is a crime, provided she is a virgin, but the maximum sentence is only 48 months.

In Brazil, an unmarried woman who is not a virgin cannot legally be raped. Never mind that the emotional rape will continue to haunt her for the rest of her days. In the eyes of the law, violation of a sexually-active unmarried woman, or one who is not a virgin, is not recognisable as an offence. But the most horrific flaw in Brazil's legal construct is the fact that it makes no mention of any repercussions for raping girls under the age of 14.

What's with the world that they judge a woman against a flimsy tissue called the hymen? Why?

The vicious cycle associated with all forms of child abuse is reliable by definition. Some warning signs of abused children include:
  • Depression at an early age
  • Withdrawal from friends and those outside immediate family
  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • MPD (multiple personality disorder) or DID (dissociative identity disorder)
  • Suicide attempts
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour even before puberty
Once these children reach adulthood, the multitude of problems they would encounter are merely extensions of those that would have developed years ago. Often, without resolution via counseling or not being allowed to pursue legal avenues to prosecute these abusers, the cycle repeats itself later in life. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this cycle is the common profile of a paedophile. Many paedophiles are themselves victims of abuse as children and/or had parents who were addicts. These children had low self-esteem which only lowered further with every passing day. Clearly, the cycle repeats time and again.

What, then, can be the answer? Experts usually disagree on the best solution, but most endorse the presence of the victim during the legal proceedings. If these children do not witness justice meted out to them in an accepted manner, they will equate it to not being important enough to be given justice. Sadly, even despite a robust legal construct that are in place, far too many victims either fall through the cracks or do not survive to seek justice. For those who are removed from their abusive homes and placed in protective custody, history repeats itself in more terrifying ways. The most frustrating aspect is breaking this cycle before it sends up the red flags.

That said, it is certainly not a lost cause to ensure protection for these children. A collaborative and coordinated team approach can be designed to protect the rights of these children. The legal representative must work hand-in-hand with government agencies, counsellors and guardians or custodians of the victims. Such combined effort can work to the advantage of the children and are make them feel as though someone is looking out for them.

We can only hope (against hope) that the Catholic Church reconsiders the label it has so carelessly placed on this innocent little girl. She already carries enough on her young mind without being accused of murder too.

Courtesy: LawyerAhead

Edited to add:
Someone actually wrote this in his comment on a forum: "Why do you need to give a man a life sentence or death for a rape when the female can easily get on with her life after sometime? It is a crime that can in no way equated to murder or cutting off a person's hands or legs."