Deadly inattentiveness

11 January 2019
Author   Jackie Wilson Asheeke
Right before the holidays, there was a report that a toddler was hit by a car and killed.  This week, a five month old baby rolled off a sleeping mattress, became trapped between the wall and the bed and died.  My heart cried.  But, it infuriated me, and it should anger you too.
Why was a toddler ‘playing’ in the street in the first place?  Who left an infant on a bed, unchecked and unattended for hours?   These are only two cases; there are dozens of others including babies drowning in buckets or falling into dry water holes or being bitten by snakes or eaten by marauding wildlife.
I blame the mothers AND the fathers equally for such tragedies.  Namibians must stop this sexist nonsense of blaming only women when children are hurt.  Those babies were not immaculate conceptions, there was a man involved and that baby is equally HIS responsibility, regardless of who is the custodial parent. 
When I go around Namibia, I regularly see very young children on their own, playing, walking or just standing too close to the roads.  Young kids are being sent to the store or walk alone to church and school and most people don’t see anything wrong with this.
In many cases, the hygiene of our young children is not being properly addressed.  These little Namibian angels are unwashed and wearing urine-stained clothes as they play in the dirt with flies all over them.  Too many of our babies have uncombed hair and sand in their eyes, ears and nostrils.  We all know that most of us see these conditions as ‘normal.’
There are far too many young ones roaming around ‘supervised’ by immature young siblings.  Usually this task of child care, is heaved upon girls as young as 10 years; this must stop!  A minor child can never maturely and consistently manage such a heavy child care burden. 
Of course, lapses in childcare that cause tragedies to occur, mostly result from ignorance, frustration, bad luck and poverty.  These things, coupled with cultural blindness and antiquated traditions, mean that there are people who could handle their children more attentively, but choose not to.
It is misguided and dangerous to think that as soon as a child is weaned from the breast and can walk unassisted, they are old enough to fend for themselves; they cannot.
There are child predators in our own communities; they are wild animals masquerading as men who sexually abuse babies.  We have cruel women who use boiling water and savage whippings to ‘punish’ young children.
What more needs to happen to our little Namibian angels before things change? Forget about how much easier and simpler things were when you were young; those days are gone.  Attentive, nurturing childcare is a now a ‘MUST’ in today’s more dangerous world or else we all must start digging our kids’ graves as soon as they are born. 
We must stop leaving active young children in the care of our physically (and financially) challenged grannies and aunties.  Those who consistently leave their toddlers and babies in insecure situations, should be prosecuted for child abandonment and elder abuse.
Indeed, both the adolescent children (boys and girls!) and the very old can (and should) assist a responsible adult in the day-to-day care of a young child, but it is unjust and unsafe to regularly leave babies, toddlers, and pre- and primary schoolers alone with any incapable (though well-meaning) care-giver.
It is NOT easy, but the hard work of finding proper childcare options are the responsibility of BOTH parents and it must be prioritised.
If the parents have money to buy beer and cigarettes, visit shebeens, visit clubs or go to church wearing fancy new clothes, get their cars washed/waxed or get nails and hair done, then, they have money to provide proper childcare.
Consider this proposal:  Let the government open day care centers in the same buildings of each Food Bank and offer subsidies to churches and schools that do the same in their facilities.  This type of free programme would be open for working parents in need of inexpensive (or free), yet safe and nurturing childcare. 
Vetted volunteers given minimal stipends can be recruited as staff and the Gender Ministry could supervise the entire thing. 
The business community, development partners and the financially able Namibians could be urged to provide steady funding to the ministry for the programme.
Why not have a box that can be checked on each tax return which allows for payment of N$50 directly into the Namibian childcare/daycare programme via the ministry. 
Money to pay responsible child minders is needed.  But, the current child maintenance system is a bureaucratic nightmare for many mothers.  Why not direct-deposit funds into these mothers’ accounts like the social security or pension payments?
Then, the fathers of those children must be hunted down and forced to refund the government for these payments.  Failure to pay should mean nasty penalties.
These are just ideas, but here is a cold, hard reality:   Those who cannot or do not want to consistently attend to the unending needs of a child, must strictly use birth control, abstinence, or the adoption system and don’t become parents.  Hearing stories of such tragic child deaths and tales of abuse and neglect, steals the spirit from our souls.

WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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