“Betray a friend and you’ll often find you have ruined yourself”?Aesop,
Generally speaking, humans like to be surrounded by family and friends. There is a unique sense of security in the loving and caring environment of those who are close to one’s heart. A home hardly feels lived in unless there are a few of a kind to share its warmth. The fun, the get-togethers, the picnics, the celebrations, eating out or even at home, the moments of crying together in a tragic situation, the struggle to consolidate relations, the burning sensation of an irritable argument followed by soothing salves of making-up and forgiveness, all contribute to the joy of being in each other’s company. JNo matter what one does, there is nothing better than returning home within its protective walls, to those who are proudly referred to as one’s own.
The level of confidence enjoyed by persons who have secure families surpasses those who suffer mental stress on the account of an unstable domestic environment. Successful people usually have supportive families that enable their pursuit of life goals or help them polish their talents. If nothing else, they provide them with a congenial atmosphere to harness their abilities. In many instances, especially in our country, with its patriarchal social model, mothers usually emerge as strong advocates for their gifted children. Even in the presence of-dictatorial-fathers, they continue to ensure their relentless backing for the fulfilment of their offspring’s ambitions. On the other side, women like Ma Barker, who according to Jenny Kaplan was described unfairly by J Edgar Hoover as “the most vicious, dangerous, and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade” (probably 1910s-20s), is alleged to have masterminded and organised her sons’ criminal activities in the Midwest; proving the strength of maternal influence. Good or bad, there is no denying the fact that a close one can always be looked upon as influencers and sheet anchors but what if those banked upon turn into backstabbers?
Innumerable instances of backstabbing at the hands of confidants, friends, co-workers, spouses etc have been observed. They leave their victims completely shattered but the most horrific effects of betrayal can be seen where innocent young children are victims. When such tragedies occur, especially in the event of the involvement of relatives, they not only destroy the victim but all or some of the perpetrators and those associated with them. Being tortured and/or abused by strangers is understandable as they may lack empathy but at the hands of one’s parents is beyond all reason yet these things do happen in real life.
One of the most appalling and blood-curdling stories of this century is that of Gabriel Daniel Fernandez. Born in February 2005 as the fourth child of Pearl Sinthia Fernandez and Arnold Contreras, Gabriel was immediately abandoned by his mother and placed in the custody of his maternal great-uncle and his male partner who both took immense care of the child until 2009, when his grandfather, objecting to the same-sex relationship of the guardians took him in his charge. In September 2012, Gabriel was handed over to his mother who at that time was in a live-in relationship with her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre along with her older children.
Thus began an excruciating eight-month-long ordeal for the eight-year-old Gabriel inflicted upon by his birth mother and her partner that ultimately led to his death on May 24, 2013. He was regularly beaten, burned with cigarettes, shot at with a BB gun, pepper-sprayed, forced to wear female clothing, gagged and encaged in a small cupboard, subjected to ice-cold baths, was forced to eat spoiled or expired food, even cat litter containing its faeces and sometimes his vomit. During the trials spanning over four years, in which Aguirre was accused of murdering the child while his mother was charged as accomplice and privy to the crime, Gabriel’s siblings stated that both their mother and step-father who believed that Gabriel was a homosexual, would laugh while he was abused. Incidentally, the other siblings were not exposed to this gruesome treatment. Eventually, in these highly publicised trials, Pearl pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole while Aguirre was given the death penalty after the jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree.
This heart-wrenching tale has much to offer in terms of being betrayed by those who should be most trustworthy. These situations are bothersome for adults but when it comes to a child, the incurred mental and physical damage cannot be measured. Many questions arose as to why the government’s child protection system failed to deliver or why the school did not take cognisance of Gabriel’s changed behaviour and physique. Unfortunately, Gabriel is not an isolated case. In the US alone, there is a large number of reported cases of child abuse leading to murder. While Gabriel’s trials were in progress in the state of California, 150 such incidents cropped up in the same state. One cannot help but think that a superpower exercising its moral control over the rest of the world has such a hideous face beneath its mask of being the flag-bearer of human rights.
For those interested, “A Nation’s Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States” is a report of the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect and is quite a read!
The writer, lawyer and co-author of many books, is Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).