Letter: Help for parents who mistreat or abduct their children

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your article headed 'Sharon Dalson, a tragedy they watched happening' (8 January) states that public services had failed to note the danger to the children. Statistics show that about 100 children a year are murdered by their parents. At least six were murdered last year by fathers who were banned from seeing their children either by the court or their mothers. Fathers who don't go to that extreme sometimes abduct their children, as in the case of Peter Malkin (report, 8 January). Unlike Sharon Dalson, who will be given hospital treatment, fathers who murder or abduct their children will be jailed. Nothing will be gained, nothing will be learnt and the public services involved will make no comment.

The judge who jailed Peter Malkin for contempt of court may have conveniently overlooked the fact that no family law court order carries any weight at all. If such orders did carry any weight, it would not have been necessary to set up the Child Support Agency to chase absent fathers. And more to the point, the several hundred thousand mothers who disobey contact orders with impunity, effectively abducting their children, would now be in jail.

It is also relevant that the Official Solicitor in the Malkin case is being sued by a 12-year-old boy who was denied contact with his father for several years before running away from his mother. The case has cost the taxpayer more than pounds 500,000 in legal aid.

All the court has done in the Malkin case is highlight its incompetence in dealing with family problems. Sharon Dalson's case is more pointed. Social Services did not act until it was too late. The reason may be gathered from the 'Working Together Under the Children Act 1989', which has no definition for emotional child abuse, though emotional abuse is always the starting point of child abuse.

The Government is prepared to spend millions on telling us how to keep our cars locked up, but how much is spent telling us how to look after our most valuable assets: our children? Until it does, more children will be murdered, abducted and abused by their parents, most of whom are likely to need help themselves. Jail and hospitals should be the last resorts. Counselling, mediation and family therapy should be the first.

Yours faithfully,

S. HAYWARD

London, NW2

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