Monday, 15 March 2010

Can children be born evil?

There's a lot of news coverage at the moment about the two boys who killed two-year old James Bulger in 1993.  Mainly because one of the boys Jon Venables, now a 27 year old man, has been returned to jail after breaching the terms of his release. 

In addition, James' mother Denise Fergus is calling for the children's commissioner Maggie Atkinson to be sacked following her interview where she claimed that the boys, who were ten when they killed little James, should never have been tried in an adult court as they were too young to understand their actions.

The Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, has now waded in to the argument by adding that that while Ms Atkinson's comments were "ill advised" he didn't think the boys were evil.  He clarified his comment thus: "I think we have to be very careful about labelling any child as intrinsically evil. Children are very affected by what happens to them as they are growing up. I think what they did to James Bulger was evil, but I'm not willing to say the children were intrinsically evil."

I agree.

This crime - the abduction, sadistic torture and brutal killing of a toddler - was, and still is, a very emotive event in recent history.  It's hard not to be moved by it, and not to have an opinion and I clearly remember having heated discussions with people about it at the time. 

Since then, I've gone on to have my own children and since 2005 have been working in a primary school in a so-called disadvantaged area.  Our school has more than it's fair share of children from broken and disfunctional families; of behavioral issues and emotional challenges; of parents who care not a jot of how their child is doing; of parents who cannot get themselves out of bed in the morning to get the children into school on time; of emotionally damaged children who want nothing more than to be loved. 

Children give away a lot of revealing information while they're at school without realising.  They share information about their home lives with their class during circle time, they write about their holidays, they talk about their families and tell us things that they accept as normal.  Most of the time they are normal but sometimes, sadly, we get a glimpse of a wretched homelife and a sad and neglected child.  Of course the school takes necessary action when required, such as calling in social services and so on, but the child is already damaged by then and it can be heartbreaking to witness.

This is a long way of saying that I also don't believe children are born evil.  I have yet to meet an emotionally damaged child who has not had a desperately sad upbringing  You only have to scratch the surface of these children to reveal the harm they have been exposed to, the physical and sexual abuse, the violence, the neglect.  You realise that most don't understand boundaries, they have never been taught what is acceptable behaviour, they are not brought up with tolerance for others, and they survive by doing what they know.  And what they know can be very unpleasant indeed.