Lessons From a Missing Child

>    The candid photo accidentally taken by tourists of a Moroccan woman walking down a roadside carrying a child on her back who may be Madeleine McCann, the 3-year-old British toddler missing from a Portugal vacation resort since May is heart breaking for several reasons.
    The obvious reason is that if this is the McCann child her trauma, and that of her parents seeing her as she is depicted with strangers,  must be overwhelmingly painful. Having a daughter of my own, I don’t even want to imagine being in such a terrible situation.
    The less obvious reason is that if one thinks about how easily the child in this photo could be Madeleine, or any other unsuspecting child, then one must confront the responsibility we all have for the illegal baby and child slave labor trades worldwide. In a 2006 article by Kristen Lingowitz, she reports on child slave labor as follows:
       “..throughout Asia and South and Central America it has become very
prevalent. Children as young as four years old are being held captive
and forced to do work that the average American would find
inconceivable. Worldwide, there is an estimated 250 million children
between the ages of five and fourteen working in developing countries
around the globe.”
    In addition, the World Health Organization reports that in Asia alone, an estimated 20-40 million children toil in debt servitude.
    Madeleine McCann is not the typical case although, if alive and not found, her fate may be typical. And while she was not born into poverty in a third-world country, or abandoned somewhere to an unknown fate, we can perhaps be the wiser as a result of her tragic experience.
    Madeleine McCann’s parents were vacationing at a Portugal resort when they went to enjoy a dinner with friends elsewhere in the complex, leaving their three small children alone in a hotel room. It was under those circumstances that Madeleine disappeared. While I am not judging the parents for their action, or blaming them for their daughter’s plight, the obvious question arises: Is dinner out with friends worth the risk of placing a child or children at risk for harm?
    Everyone must answer that question for themselves and take responsibility for their decision. I know that when our daughter, now 14, was between the ages of 2 and 5, we never even went out to dinner leaving her with a sitter. We simply didn’t go out. And as she got older, unless she was in summer camp (and with only one exception) we have never vacationed without her.
    This is not to say our approach was correct or the only way to deal with raising a child while finding necessary and independent adult time. But it is to say that once one makes the decision to bring a life into this world, there begins a stage wherein there’s little room for ego gratification and self-indulgence…and even less room for a margin of error in regard to the child’s safety and wellbeing.
    When we were adopting our daughter, my husband (who had been  married previously and raised two sons) told me that “once we have a child, there will be no time for us.” I listened. But somewhere I thought he was saying there would be less time for us. I simply could not believe there would be no time.
    It’s 12 years later and he was, literally, correct. There is no time because raising a child is a full time job if you want to do it right…or even try to. Romantic dinners, adult only vacations and private time, while nice and perhaps even necessary, need to be re-prioritized to a lesser degree of importance where the safety and well being of the child is not compromised.
My heart goes out to Madeleine McCann and her family. My heart goes out as well to every child suffering under the weight of neglect and abuse. We should all be pained as members of the human race for those millions of children worldwide that are the object of greed and cruelty.
    We can do something about it one child at a time by refocusing our priorities on what matters. What matters is our responsibility to the children and the possibilities for the future.
    What we know for sure is…the children are the future.

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