Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Where are you today...?

Ten years ago when I was very young and working as a child protection social worker in the UK, one of my cases involved 3 Argentinean girls. They haunt me till this day and I wonder what happened to them. Their father was in the British Merchant Navy and their Mother a prostitute in Monte Video. The girls aged 4, 6 and 10 grew up in Argentina, but was brought to the UK by their father. Social Services received a referral from school, suspecting physical abuse of the girls by the father. We went and interviewed the children, which was a nightmare, as they spoke very little English. The Child Protection Police Officer who went with me, managed to get a Spanish interpreter from their database of interpreters. He was a typical good-natured upper-class English country gentleman, who spoke perfect grammatical Spanish. This proved to be a problem. In the man’s own words – it is the same as him trying to interpret English and the children are from the Bronx. Neither he nor the children understood each other quite clearly. Enough was understood however to confirm suspicions of physical abuse. Neglect was evident. Emotional abuse is part of the package. The children were taken from the father (old man, we initially thought he was the grandfather) and put with emergency foster parents. I phoned my mother Bee in SA that night and for the first time since I was a child I cried when I heard her voice. I soon found a native Argentinean-Spanish speaking interpreter (a lovely woman with a young boy of her own). The children’s English also improved daily. I am fully conversant in English and speak it nearly as well as my native Afrikaans. Language was not so much a problem however, for I understood these children rather well. I also came from a country which are developing in the sense that part of the country and society is developed, and part is undeveloped. I understood their craving for simple staple food from home (in their case rice and beans and in mine maize porridge). I understood the culture shock of living in a new country. Sub consciously I grew quite attached to the three little girls. I suspect they felt that I understood them and I know they genuinely liked me. I do not know who hated the foster mum more, I or them. I just couldn’t find an alternative placement for them. They used to threaten the foster mum with “we tell Hard Spear you hit us.” The foster mum had no insight at all, although I appreciate that it could not have been easy on her. I will never forget the foster mum telling me that she cannot understand the fact that these children who come from horrible circumstances does not appreciate living with people in a semi-detached and driving a Mercedes Benz. I had to bite my tongue so hard, for I had seen their car. It was a old 190 Merc adorned with fins, spoilers etc etc. It was all I could do not starting to scream at her. There is more brand new luxury top-of-the-line German cars individually in most backwards third world countries than in the whole of Germany. (I am not talking about the exploitation and means some individuals in the third world obtain their riches, neither about the exploitation and means some individuals in the first world obtain their riches for that matter) however, the sight of a Mercedes Benz is extremely common in the third world. Later on it transpired that the girls’ father abused them sexually and that it was an older “brother” who was responsible for the physical abuse. Without going in too much detail, the whole matter ended up in the London Family High Court (where I had to testify as expert witness – horrifying experience). I passed the case over to a long term care social work team shortly before I returned to South Africa. Mary, Mary Magdalene and Elizabeth… where are you today? My heart still aches for you… I did what I could then... I know it was not enough... Please forgive me, my dears... Hardy

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