Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Invisible Madeleines


13 days ago four year old Madeleine McCann from Rothley, Leicestershire, disappeared from the holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal in which she was sleeping with her siblings whilst her parents had dinner less than 50 meters away.

Since then we have seen endless footage of two young individuals whose pain, sadness and fear for their daughter’s safety can not be described nor imagined. One only has to see Gerry and Kate McCann’s faces to know that every moment since that night has been a living nightmare for them.

11 days after the incident the reward offered to anyone with information leading to Madeleine’s safe return reached £2.5 million.  The generosity of the individuals who have contributed to this fund and every other that has taken time to help in some way is a display of human kindness at its finest. Once again we have united as a nation to show our support, courage and strength. We did this after little Jamie Bulger’s brutal murder, the 2004 Tsunami  and 07/07 and we will continue to do this as future tragedies take their place in history.

Yet there is something very uncomfortable and disconcerting about the media’s reaction to Madeleine McCann. As each day passes, it is becoming harder to ignore the imbalance of their reporting. Why has precedence been given to one child and her family over the countless others in this world who are locked in endless slavery, abuse, torture and poverty? 

The media say they report News. Surely it is the media that has driven the news over the past 13 days.  The momentum of this front page 24/7 reporting has created a void which is not backfilled by any measured reporting of an issue that affects thousands of children every day of every year.  Once again the media have failed to give voice to the poor.

In a report by Human Rights Watch published in January 2004, the report details child abductions in Northern Uganda as one of the most flagrant examples. ‘The Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted an estimated 10,000 children since mid 2002. These children are forced to fight against the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces, raid villages for food, slaughter civilians, and abduct other children. Children who try to escape are killed, typically by other children who are forced to beat or hack the victim or be killed themselves’.

Around Easter this year the plight of children slaving  on Cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast so that we can effortlessly eat Easter eggs was given some media attention albeit very minimal.  A survey in 2002 by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture found that 284 000 children were working in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa.  Many of these children were trafficked. Imagine Wembley Stadium filled three times over. This is how many children’s lives are at stake.  

Why has this not been drummed, hammered and stamped into our conscience by the media with daily headlines and graphic accounts of these children?  Their names, their age, their smiles, their tears. We hear nothing. We see nothing. Why are we not reminded every day that bonded labour, warfare and child prostitution is an everyday reality for so many of the world’s children?

There is no doubt that there is a lot of money being given to aid children whose human rights have and are being violated. There are many selfless and generous people in our world and every bit counts. And there is no question of the validity of the reward to bring Madeleine home. Everyone wants this beautiful little girl to be safe and back in her parents’ arms again.

It is unfortunate that the media has isolated this heart wrenching story and have failed to frame it within a global context. Every child is priceless and most importantly every child is equal. As human beings we have a moral duty to remember the thousands of invisible children who we will never ever hear about every time we think, hope and pray for Madeleine McCann.

(Brami Jegan) 


Anonymous said...

You don't distinguish between domestic and international news that is the fundamental flaw in the arguement in this country when there is no one big news story then domestic always takes precendence.

I think to be fair to the media (a little) it's a reflection of the readership i think! English people are naturally very in-ward looking - it's still a bit of an oil tanker to get us looking abroad, even with such a diverse culture!

AVIF Volunteers in Kenya said...

Thank you for your comment, Gray.
General consensus will always be that charity begins at home, but its all about Global Citizenship, Development Education .. the new buzzwords .. opening peoples eyes, getting perspective. Paper media has to rely on local readership of course but TV should catch up with the internet to start giving a global picture.

Anonymous said...

What bemuses me is the recent "we must keep this in the public eye" stuff (her relatives going to parliament, rugby and football players making pronouncements) when, frankly, it's been pretty inescapable for two weeks now. Perhaps if it was out of the public eye, the family and police might be able to better get on with what they need to do.

One would hope, also, that the £2.5 million, which is an amazing contribution, goes on to help other children, as I think has been suggested. That could be one positive for 'many' to come out of the massive focus on one child.

Anonymous said...

avif, I too find it a bit much now. Some dramatic events seem to attract the media's attention more than others. I think they are playing on the emotions of the average family watching telly: lovely girl, lovely holiday, sudden tragedy.
And you don't even need to go looking in the South of the world for inivisible tragedies and abuses; what happens to many kids in many deprived areas of the UK? Does anyone care?

Anonymous said...

AVIF, this is exactly what I and a Development Studies colleague were commenting about yesterday. In particular, why has this not been put into a wider global context about 'disappearing' people and trauma that this causes - both today, and historically (I have just read Alex Haley's Roots about the African slave trade, which provides some insights into the trauma experienced during those times). Let's hope that someone will pick up these issues and give them more prominence, and that the 2.5 million can be used to set up a constructive trust fund to help many similar victims worldwide.

Anonymous said...

Hi All,
I'm a Canadian and as things news related go, we get the British perspective (We still have the queen on our money!), and the American one due mainly to our geography. The most popular TV shows in all three countries is CSI in all of its incarnations. Besides that there are a plethora of real life forensic programs that showcase all the latest and greatest in crime fighting science.
I should say now that I'm (hopefully) coming from an objective stance and am trying to leave my personal opinion out of it as much as can be done. (In regards to why a single case gets so much international attention.)

It's great that there are groups committed to helping the striving, disenfranchised, and beleaguered people of the world. I believe in that cause and have on and off committed myself to being active in those areas.

I understand the frustration and the seemingly absurd nature of entire countries being swept up in what started out to be a story of local, albeit tragic, interest. Ever so often such a story separates itself from the din of similar stories, which I must say are all to frequent.

Most missing person stories, and there are many, tend to be a parent in a divorce situation who has little or no custody of the children and makes off with them. These stories are so frequent and similar to each other that they border on the mundane in a world of flashy sound bites and headlines. That's just a fact.

There are then children who go missing but are found relatively quickly, unharmed, because there is usually a person known to the family of the child that they are immediately suspicious of (i.e. a baby sitter or some sort of caretaker that's been behaving in an unusual manner towards a particular child, and may or may not have had any malicious intentions from the start.

Then there are the hardcore abductions where the intent is malevolent from the beginning, maybe having been planned even. These children are either sold for one of many purposes, usually to pedophiles for their depraved purposes, or quickly raped and murdered to satisfy some sick bastartd's immediate urges. In the latter case I've mentioned, the child is usually dead within two hours*. Two horrific unimaginably terrifying hours that no punishment can be seen as having done justice.

Having said all that, it’s the last couple of abduction scenarios that get all the attention, because of their heinous nature, and because it's hard to believe that a human being is capable of such horror. A majority of people are drawn to stories of unimaginable suffering and depravity, as distasteful as they may be. A couple of examples we see every day where traffic slows to a crawl while "rubber neckers" in passing crashed vehicles try to get even a glimpse of the injured or deceased. People will flock in the dozens on street corners, straining at the police crime scene tape to maybe see some carnage. Why?

In our western society we have sanitized ourselves from the unsightly reality of death. We want to see a nicely dressed, well groomed corpse in the coffin to pass on our respects to and that's how we will remember them. In death as in life. We don't want to see friends or loved ones disfigured, or not whole. If this can be maintained, we don't have to think about our own mortality and how we might die a terrible death with suffering and pain. We see it as just another day, so peaceful looking.

In doing so, we never get to see the harsh realities of what a car crash, murder, or accidental dismembering can do to a body and how much one can suffer. This would not have been the case in our not too distant past. Many families would be left to deal with the bodies themselves, including cleaning, dressing and burying them.

These days we are curious because we never get to see these things, so we try to catch a glimpse like in the afore mentioned cases. We are also curious when someone does something terrible intentionally, especially a child, for this is the worst way for a person to be injured or killed. With intent by another human. Not an accident but an intentional act. We wonder if we could be capable of such a thing. The ultimate taboo.

Which brings me back to where I started. Television and films have become the most common method of telling stories these days. Instead of pouring over novels for hours or even days, we can in one hour witness a crime follow the investigation, marvel at the modern crime fighting tools and science we have, and watch as the bad guy is arrested and locked up for good.

We feel good that the person will pay dearly for having done wrong, the families of the victims are pleased that justice has been and will be done. The rest of us can go to bed and rest assured that we live in a safe world and we should wake up in the morning safe because all the bad guys are in jail. If not our science will catch them and we will have justice. Nobody ever gets away!

Is it any wonder that shows like CSI and the reality crime shows like "The First 48" are literally the most popular television shows in the world? Everything goes wrong and is neatly resolved in one hour (or 44 minutes if you take out the adverts).

It's when things go wrong, like in the case of Jonbenet Ramsey Maddeleine McCann, Stacey Peterson, and Adam Walsh (which I just picked off the top of my head)
That we get thrown for a loop. The police mess up; the science shows it's fallibility or that for all the best efforts the perpetrator is just never discovered.

Either way, justice fails to be done, and as a society it's a complete affront to our sensibilities and the paradigm we live in collapses. For those reasons we become interested in (or obsessed with) the cases and want to find out WHY? And NOTHING WILL BE RIGHT UNTIL WE FIND THE ANSWER.
We've been conditioned to think that way. We become curious as the drivers who slow down to try and catch a gruesome glimpse of the accident victim. Something has gone terribly wrong and to us it's as the laws of physics and the universe have just changed and we've been left to wonder how the new ones work or if we can put the old ones back in their rightful place.

It’s not that we've forgotten about the millions of people worldwide and the injustice they face, but these local stories that frighten us the most because they are local. We are all used to (unfortunately) the stories of famine and injustice in remote parts of the world and in a sense we are detached from feeling too much of anything because of that remoteness.

Look, eventually these stories die down and we will again show an interest in focusing our resources in other areas of the world, but there's nothing like a local story to catch one's attention and imagination, after all to us, local affects us the most, right? That's true for everyone. When was the last time the people of Somalia got together and wrote letters to the Portuguese government demanding a speedy resolution to the Maddeleine McCann Case? (This is not a slam against the fine Somali people or their character, but rather just to show a point)

Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad Idea if some of the more unusual stories from places like Africa were put in the international spotlight the way some are here. People looking at these stories would inevitably come across more than just the one or two of the more publicized ones and this would at least create more awareness of the “more mundane” cases also. (No case is mundane for the people involved, but there, like here, there’s so much of this stuff going on it’s hard for any one story to stand out from the next)

*I'm not sure if this exact but it's somewhere in the ballpark, as sickening as that may be.

AVIF Volunteers in Kenya said...

Thanks for all your comments .. forwarded on to the author.