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Through the eyes of a mother: The Forgotten Children

The hand of a child behind a wire fenceMotherhood changes you and how you perceive the world.

Ever since I became a mother I’ve found it so much more difficult to watch the news. I’ve come to observe the tragedies, injustices and crimes reported in the media through the eyes of a mother.

As such my compassion deepens and I find myself thinking … what would I do if I was in that situation? How would I protect my children?

My heart breaks when I see the pure fear in the eyes of a mother carrying her children as they flee their homes in Syria or Libya. When I see (and feel) the anguish of a mother that hovers helplessly over her ill child in a far way village in Sierra Leone or Cambodia. These days when I watch the news my heart breaks, and often I’m left in tears and having to answer my curious six year old’s question … “Mum, why are you crying?”

So earlier this year when the findings of the The Forgotten Children report came out in the media I was shocked, abhorred and then left in tears. From a mother’s perspective it didn’t matter to me whether the report was or was not “a blatantly partisan politicised exercise”. I didn’t care for pointing the finger of blame. I only saw children in detention and as far as I’m concerned we are all responsible in some way for these innocent children.

Unfortunately the findings of the report soon got overshadowed in the media by political power plays, and the saga that soon followed. The media coverage seemed to revolve around personal attacks and political agendas. Not the findings of the report. Adding further insult to injury, it seemed like the findings of the report were shoved into the periphery and these children were forgotten once more.

As parents raising our children in this great country, I wonder how can we stand by and let this go on. Let’s put the politics aside and let’s acknowledge the reality of it all; there are innocent children being held in detention for indefinite periods of time, and these children are suffering because of it. I understand it may be complicated and challenging to get the correct documentation to process these children and their families. But this does not change the fact that these children are suffering. They have suffered loss already in their life, and they are still suffering.

We must remember that these fellow human beings are seeking asylum. They are not criminals. The parents of these children were seeking to protect their families, and in their desperate plight to escape harm and keep their children safe they put their fate in the hands of people smugglers. They arrived on a boat to a foreign country. Risking their lives, leaving their old lives behind and grappling onto to the faint hope that they will have a chance to start a new life in a new country. It is unfathomable what would have gone through a parent’s mind to think that this would be a good idea; but the fear of being killed, persecuted, tortured drove them to this desperation.

When I hear the real stories of most refugees I am left in awe and shock, intense compassion stirs deep within me. I wonder as a parent what would’ve I done if I were in that situation? I know for a fact that I would do anything to protect my children, and there is a chance that I would have tried to enter a country on a boat if it meant my family would be safe. Let us not forget that they are parents like us, but they have children who most likely have seen atrocities that ordinary children haven’t. These are children that are in need of help, counselling and support. Not indefinite detention.

I wonder how a mother in detention answers her children’s countless questions. How does she assure them that everything is going to be OK? Where is that sense of comfort and security that is so crucially needed when raising a child? I know all children need constant stimulation and new environments to thrive. After hearing the descriptions of the conditions in some of the detention centres, with fenced compounds and small metal cabins 3×2.5m in size, I figure those children would be severely lacking in new environments and stimulation. I know that I worry if my children don’t eat well. Then I recall a story I heard about of a 12-year-old girl on Christmas Island who was starving herself so that she could escape the horrors of detention.

I strive to ensure my children get enough exercise and do a variety of recreational activities. Recent reports indicate that at the various detention centres there are limited facilities for recreation and sport. I ensure that my children don’t take too many days off school. The findings of the report indicate that children were given no official schooling during their time in detention. If I fail to meet the needs of my children I feel guilty. Why would these mothers be any different than I? A mother is a mother, a parent is a parent and most of us just want what is best for our children.

When I’m overwhelmed or down I know that my children feel it directly. I know that I need to get out sometimes, get a taste of freedom and get a new perspective. Being a parent is hard and I can’t imagine how hard it must be for some of the mothers in detention. Unable to get out, unable to answer their children’s questions, unable to give them a sense of security and assurance. At one point it was reported that 10 women of young children on Christmas Island were at risk of self-harm and needing 24-hour surveillance. How could these mothers possibly comfort their children, when they themselves are broken and need support? How would I feel if I was given no information about the fate of my family? How would I feel if my children were anxious, depressed, having nightmares, bedwetting, refusing to eat, constantly whiny, bored and clingy. I would feel deeply disempowered if I were unable to improve my family’s situation in anyway. These children and the findings of this report are important to all Australian parents. These children are in our care and we are failing them.

As parents we need to have compassion on these fellow human beings who are seeking asylum from danger, and in particular on the children that are caught up in this process. Let’s have compassion because these children are innocent and they are vulnerable …and they need this great nation to give them a fair go.

Check out the full report on The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2014) and as a parent make a judgment for yourself. Let these innocent children be forgotten no more.

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