Today I had to turn the news off before I left home and stop reading the paper on the train all because of the story about Daniel Pelka, the little boy tortured and eventually killed by his mother and her partner. I turned it off not because I didn't want to hear about it but purely because I couldn't get myself in a state before leaving for work, nor could I sit on the train crying.
I have always struggled to understand how anyone could abuse or torture a child but since having a son of my own I am at a complete loss as to what the motivation is for prolonged abuse. Yes, children are challenging. Yes, they are frustrating and sometimes they will push you to limits you can only imagine. But their innocence and unconditional trust in you is enough to (usually) melt the hardest of hearts. And if it doesn't, feeling their arms around your neck whilst giving you a sloppy kiss will.
You often read stories of mothers with chronic depression and mental illness who ‘snap’ and kill themselves and their children, or about a parent at the end of their tether who lashes out a child and hits them. It might sound strange but I can see how that happens. Mental illness, sleep deprivation, lack of support and desperation can lead people to do very strange things and it’s very sad when something like that happens. But this story is on a whole new level that leaves me feeling sick.
At his death, this 4 year old child weighed 21lbs. 1½ stone. My son is 14 months old and weighs the same. And he is deemed to be quite small for his age. Let’s just think about that for a minute. A 4 year old weighed the same as a small toddler.
I’m sure there will be recriminations flying about all over the place now blaming teachers and social services but let’s not forget, it wasn’t them who inflicted the injuries on this child. It was his biological mother and her partner. Every article I have read details how he was locked in a cold room with no food, no access to the toilet and no contact with anyone else. He was held under the water in his bath until he passed out. He was force fed salt. He was sent to school with almost no lunch and was found by teachers trying to eat from the bins, stealing from other kids’ lunchboxes and picking up food from dirty floors. Teachers repeatedly flagged up concerns over his welfare, his continuing weight loss and appearance. But what powers do they have? None. They can only follow procedures and report it to authorities and try to speak to the child’s parents.
Two things strike me about this story. Firstly, how can a mother do that to her own son? I understand that often women are frightened of a violent partner fearing for their own safety too. However there is every indication that she was a willing participant in this exhausting torrent of abuse this child suffered. Maybe I don’t have all the facts but I’m struggling to believe she is nothing other than guilty – as was confirmed by a jury this week.
Secondly, how was he left to suffer this by the social services. How could someone think that an emaciated child is happy and healthy? And if The Telegraph has its facts straight, a doctor deemed him underweight but nothing more 3 weeks before his death. I hope that doctor can sleep at night.
If this was an isolated incident, it would be a very sad story and we would hope that nothing like this would ever be allowed to happen again. But it’s not. I’m sure everyone remembers Baby P who died in 2007 after a similar experience. That child was less than 18 months old. Today I also found a story about a couple in Belgium who repeatedly abused their children for years. I can’t even write about some of the things these children endured.
I don't know what the answer is, but for now I am just glad this beautiful little boy is in a much happier place. And I hope it is a very long time before I have to stop reading a newspaper on the train again.