Parenting: East vs West? – I

               The first drops of rain falling on your face, the kiss of a beloved, reading your favorite novel, the hug of your child, a hot chocolate drink on a cold day, watching the sunrise, a call from your best friend!  Some things in life remain just the same wherever you are in the world… in a good way, I mean to say.

               One could very well add the love and care of a parent to the list above – at least that’s what it would seem on first look. Sadly, the reality is a bit different. Our world is not perfect and there are instances of child abuse – sometimes even by own parents. This is where Child Protective Services (CPS) step in. The agencies may be variously known as Child Welfare Services (CWS), Social Services, Family and Child Welfare Services etc. in different regions. Basically, they are agencies that are responsible for acting for the welfare of children who are reported to be abused either physically, emotionally, sexually or through neglect. In many countries, they have sweeping powers. According to the Child Welfare League of America website, they “are also responsible for helping to put in place a plan for safety and services to the children and families. This may include child care, medical care, parenting education, housing, family supervision, drug treatment, or a placement for the child.”

               The reason I am talking about this issue is because of 2 related incidents concerning Indian parents abroad. The first one occurred in Norway earlier this year. 3-year old Abhigyan and 1-year old Aishwarya were taken away by the Norwegian CWS from their parents – a nightmarish situation for any normal family. Initially, cultural differences were cited by the parents as the reason for this, but later this was found to be untrue. After much drama – including cries of racism by the Indian media, changing of stances by the parents and intervention by the Indian government – the children were finally placed in custody of their paternal uncle back in India. The exact reason for such a drastic action by the CWS still remains unknown; there have been various reports of the mother suffering from depression and the son having emotional detachment disorder, but nobody knows which media reports to believe. The Norwegian CWS remained tightlipped throughout the entire case citing confidentiality.

               More recently and closer home, there is this case of 1-year old Indrashish earlier this month. He was rushed in to a hospital by his parents and underwent surgery in head “due to injuries after falling from the bed”. But the CPS in NJ, USA suspects the subdural heamatoma and retinal clot the child had to be part of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Last I heard of this case is that the matter is sub judice and the child is in the custody of Child Protection Agency.

               Contrast the above with the cases of Baby Falak, Baby Afreen, Baby Shireen and numerous other child-abuse cases in India, a majority of which go unreported in the media. Which system would you prefer? A draconian one that monitors and sometimes takes pre-emptive actions against suspected child-abuse? Or one that is so slow and sluggish that no one knows if or when any conviction will be done within the next decade even when abused children die? Check out this article that states the inadequacies of the system while giving details of the Baby Falak case.

               On any day, I would prefer an imperfect system in which parents are held accountable to law for their kids’ safety even by overzealous agencies to having no proper system in place at all for child-protection. Having said that, separating a child from its family should be the last resort in most of the cases. I recall an incident that our pediatrician was telling us when she was explaining that parents in the United States can face legal action or have their children taken away at the worst if anything drastic happens to the child. In this case, the toddler had fallen down from either a bed or the stairs (I don’t remember which). The baby had a broken femur bone as a result of the fall; and the doctor had to report this to the police under Mandated reporting (more on this later). The parents in this case were let off with a warning as this seemed to be a one-off accident. This seemed to me an adequate response at that time.

               A study of Child Abuse Laws in the USA reveals the following:

The laws concerning this vary from state to state, but the basic premises remain the same.

  • Firstly, the child abuse has to be suspected and reported. Some states in the USA have the schemes of mandated reporting. Who reports that child abuse has occurred? Anybody can!
  • Mandated Reporting:  In Maryland, for example, the following are required by law to report child-abuse as soon as they suspect it, without waiting for any proof – Health Practitioner (i.e. doctor/nurse), Educator, Human Service worker (social worker), Police Officer. Besides this, any other citizen who suspects child abuse/neglect ought to report it. It depends on the will of the reporter whether he/she wants identity to be revealed. Also, there is a confidentiality clause keeping in mind the welfare of the child first and foremost.
  • The local social services department or the law enforcement agency investigates the incident including nature, extent, circumstances and all pertinent information.
  • Depending on the degree of child-abuse the responsible agency will decide the further course of action, if the child-abuse incident is found to be true  – Family counseling, Medical treatment, Childcare services, Emergency Shelter home, Foster Care, Legal action etc.

               Does having so many safeguards ensure that child abuse including neglect never happen? Of course, not! But in this system, there is some provision for the weakest sections of the society – babies and children- to have a voice. As parents we need to have at least basic awareness of the local laws of the land. At the same time, we need to have a clear understanding of the differences between eastern and western styles of parenting. Because there indeed are some fundamental differences between these. More on that in the next part…