Elián: What Have We Learned?
The picture stays in my mind: an innocent 6-year-old, still mourning the death of his mother, forced by a submachine gun to comply with a court order because the adults who want to help him can't find a more creative solution. It worries and saddens me that any modern-day government would feel justified to terrorize a child in a violent predawn raid. Haven't we gone beyond this kind of autocratic and dangerous "any means to an end" thinking? Elián may have cried for "only five minutes" that fateful morning, but there is no doubt that the memory of the predawn raid that took him by force will last forever in his heart.
My dream is that there will come a time when no little boy would be raised with so few examples of compassion that he would become a man capable of terrorizing an innocent child with a submachine gun - simply because his job requires it. Everyone would recognize this as the cowardly and cruel act that it is. It just wouldn't happen. What more creative and compassionate solution might Janet Reno have been forced to discover in that situation? Unfortunately for Elián, we will never know. Here is some advice for the Janet Renos of the world: when the only solution you can find includes terrorizing an innocent child with a submachine gun, keep looking!
In a unanimous ruling, the 11th Circuit Court ruled that any alien - even a child - can ask for asylum. This ruling has worried those who fear the legal ramifications. If a child can ask for political asylum, what other rights might children demand? Time writer Richard Lacayo wonders if first graders will be allowed to sue their parents if they are punished1. Perhaps children should be given this right. Punishment solves nothing and just makes a bad situation worse. It damages the bond between parent and child, misses a golden opportunity to teach compassion by example, and is ultimately ineffective because it ignores the underlying causes and the unmet needs that all "misbehavior" signals.
In Scandinavian countries, there are child ombudsmen that all children can turn to if they are not receiving the loving care and compassion that every child needs and deserves to have. Children in those countries have won the right to be heard when their human rights are overlooked. Soldiers, slaves, women, the handicapped, gays, people of color, pets, and endangered animals have all had their day in court, and their rights recognized. When will children, who should have been first on this list, finally gain their place on it? When will we finally understand that children are human beings who deserve to be treated like human beings? When will we listen to children?
Throughout this episode, I read the views of many people, but there was scarcely any discussion of Elián's own feelings on the matter. If we have learned anything from his situation, I hope it is that all children deserve to be heard, and to be treated with compassion at all times, even when the adults around them have run out of creative solutions. "Any means to an end" is just not good enough for our children.
1 "What Can a Child Decide?", Time (Canadian edition), May 1, 2000, page 22.
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers counseling worldwide, with a focus on parenting and unschooling. She is the Director of The Natural Child Project and author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart and A Gift for Baby.