The offspring was barely eighteen months when he joined playschool. For all the days leading up to his joining playschool we had built it up with all sorts of bells and whistles. “You’ll be going to school!” “Here’s your new school bag.” “Here’s your uniform.” The day we brought home the water bottle and pencil box, he went to sleep hugging them.
He was still in diapers, it would be a few months later that he would be completely diaper free. The playschool was just across the road from our house and I scrambled across with him on the first day of school, with his kerchief neatly pinned to his shirt, his hair spit polished and combed into a side parting, his bag on his back with his one book, pencil box and water bottle. I handed him over to the teacher at the gate, the first few days were going to be for just half an hour, and they would increase the time gradually to get the kids accustomed to being away from familiar faces. The school gate was a cacophony of wailing kids, the offspring though happily skipped through offering other wailing kids a chance to admire his new pencil boks and wadderboddle. These kindly offers at bonding were dismissed scornfully by all the kids intent on breaking every unwary tympanum in the immediate vicinity with their wailing. The offspring was the only kid who went in with the teacher, hopping and skipping, delighted to be with so many other children, showing off his rudimentary AyBeeChee.
I stood outside for that half an hour and cried. It was me who had to be patted on the back and consoled. It was me who was panicking about how he would be with not a single familiar face around him, no one who could understand his language which back then was still a mix of sense and gibberish. This was for half an hour.
It was me who had to be patted on the back and consoled. It was me who was panicking about how he would be with not a single familiar face around him, no one who could understand his language which back then was still a mix of sense and gibberish.
Why do I write this today, of all days, when the offspring is in Grade X, and is a long way off from those enforced days of early separation? It was a picture in the newspapers, a little girl in a red t-shirt looking up at the face of an officer whom we can’t see in the frame. Her face was terrified. It was the series of tweets I read on the timeline describing the facility that a journalist visited which housed children locked up after being separated from their parents.
It was the heartbreaking audio clipping I heard of children crying endlessly for their parents, until their voices gave way ragged and hoarse. It was the photographs of the chain link cages the children were incarcerated in, when they were taken away from their parents, 20 to a cage we are told. It is about the three tender age or preschool age camps I read about where very young children, including babies, are being held, away from their parents, some of them literally snatched from the breast. It is because my heart breaks at the thought of being torn away from your child with no clue of when or where you will ever be able to see them again, if ever. It is because I cannot imagine the agony of not knowing how the child is, who is watching over them, what kind of treatment they would have to endure, and though there will be food and shelter, and other children, how would the child deal with being taken away from their parents. It is the mother I read about, who says, “I call and call and call and no one will tell me where he is.”
It is because I cannot imagine the agony of not knowing how the child is, who is watching over them, what kind of treatment they would have to endure, and though there will be food and shelter, and other children, how would the child deal with being taken away from their parents.
The facilities, the little one saw in the photographs that were released, seemed clean enough and if one ignored the cages, the food being offered to the children seemed adequate. Food, shelter and clothing are being provided to the children but what they aren’t getting is the love that they need from a parent. Who is to say what kind of damage these children will grow up with, and what lifelong trauma these separations will cause. Will these children be the same children when they meet their parents again, if and when they do, or will they have been so scarred that they will be different people completely?
Will these children be the same children when they meet their parents again, if and when they do, or will they have been so scarred that they will be different people completely?
That these families are asylum seekers is incidental. That there is a zero tolerance policy being put into place is secondary. What is important is that the children have been traumatised beyond repair with this. That families have been ripped apart. That mothers don’t know where their children are and when they will ever see them again. What would I do if I was one of those mothers, I keep asking myself over and over again? How would I deal with not knowing where my child was and not being allowed to reach him or see him?
What is ironic is that the USA is a country that was built on immigration by immigrants. That children, the most vulnerable group of all, are the targets of this zero tolerance policy is a crime against humanity. And that the world is sitting by, watching this happen and not protesting, is an even bigger crime.
Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. Views expressed are the author’s own.
Pic Credit: Elite Agent