If we don’t protect the children, who will?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 16, 2002

My parents celebrated their 30th anniversary on Monday &045; Tax Day. That helps Daddy remember &045; well, most of the time, anyway.

I’ve thought a lot lately about the two of them being married for 30 years.

It has really made me realize how lucky I am.

I never had to wonder whether going to my own home would mean a beating or even a round of uncontrolled verbal abuse.

I never doubted that when I got home from school each day, there would be food to eat and a warm, safe bed in which to sleep.

More than 825,000 children in this country are confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect. And it is estimated that more than 2 million more reports are not confirmed.

Keep in mind those figures are reported incidents and just imagine how many more go unreported.

National reports indicate that four children die each day from abuse and neglect.

When I lived in Brewton, I covered the most heart-wrenching story I’ve ever heard.

A 2-year-old little boy named Christopher died from what the state medical examiner called &uot;severe blows to the abdomen.&uot;

It seems his mother, in an attempt to quiet the child, punched him repeatedly in the stomach &045; sometimes with her fist, sometimes with a hairbrush or whatever was handy, I guess.

She also broke his arm, both legs and several ribs.

The baby’s mother blamed her new husband, the stepfather. The stepfather and the boy’s real father blamed the mother.

I covered the trial of both the mother and the stepfather, and I can’t remember a time when I came home that week and did not cry. The story was horrendous to watch unfold and terrible to have to put on paper.

One of the tragedies in the whole situation came to the forefront during the middle of the trial.

Members of the child’s family said over and over, &uot;I just knew something like that was happening. I knew she was abusing that baby.&uot;

My question: if they knew, why in the world did they not say something in time to save his life?

That is what this month is all about. April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. That is the meaning of all the blue ribbons you see around Shelby County.

Yes, abuse does occur, right here in Shelby County.

It really concerns me that people seem to believe Shelby County is immune to child abuse and neglect. That is just not true.

Ask Juvenile Court Judge Patti Smith how busy she is in her courtroom with these cases.

Ask Helen Rardin of Owens House how many children they are able to help get through the &uot;telling&uot; process.

Ask Beth Chapman, director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, how many children are aided each year by that program. #

Child abuse is defined as harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare which can occur through nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or sexual exploitation. Physical abuse refers to beating, stabbing, poisoning, shaking, burning, drowning and electrocution and more.

Psychological abuse is a concerted attack on the development of self and social competence, including rejecting, isolating, terrorizing, ignoring and corrupting.

Sexual abuse includes rape, incest or sexual molestation.

Child neglect is negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child including the failure to provide adequate food, medical treatment, clothing and shelter.

These are absolutely unacceptable ways to treat a child, or any human being, for that matter.

We must take responsibility for these children.

According to a 1999 study by Prevent Child Abuse America, the No. 1 reason for failing to report child abuse and neglect after witnessing it is that people do not believe it is any of their business.

I ask, then: whose business is it? Simply as human beings, we have a responsibility to protect these children.

If we don’t, who will