Protect the kids

It is summer time once more. It is hot, sticky, and humid; the beaches are crowded and the schools are out. Children are everywhere and the scramble to keep them out of mischief becomes a priority.

It’s Crop-Over Festival 2013 — music, costumes, food and drink are the main ingredients; partying becomes primary and something is likely to be forgotten. Let us hope it is not a life.

Alexandria Virginia, US: Police reported on Friday that an eight-month-old boy died after his mother forgot that he was in her car and went to work. The child had been left in the car all day as temperatures rose to around 90 degrees.

Virginia police said that the woman drove to her job in Arlington on Friday morning and when she left work Friday afternoon, she discovered she had left the baby inside the car, and rushed the infant to a hospital just after 4 p.m., where the child was pronounced dead in the emergency room. Cause of death? Heatstroke. Second cause, neglect and forgetfulness.

Homewood, Alabama: A one-year old girl died on Thursday after she was left for hours in a parked car on a sweltering day. Alabama Police said they received a call around 1:30 p.m. about a baby locked inside a vehicle.

The temperature at the time was about 91 degrees, and the temperature inside the vehicle had already reached life-threatening levels. The girl was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Cause of death? Heatstroke. Second cause, neglect and forgetfulness.

According to an ongoing study from the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, in 2012, the number of deaths of unattended children left in locked cars was 33. As of July this year, there have been at least 21 deaths of children unattended in vehicles and the year is not yet over.

An examination of media reports about the 561 child vehicular heatstroke deaths for a13-year period 1998 through 2012 shows the following circumstances:

* 51 per cent – child “forgotten” by caregiver (288 Children)

* 29 per cent – child playing in unattended vehicle (163)

* 18 per cent – child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (101)

* two per cent – circumstances unknown (9)

The study said that in the three-year period of 1990-1992, before airbags became popular, there were only 11 known deaths of children from heatstroke reported nationwide. In the most recent three-year period of 2009-2011, when almost all young children are now placed in back seats instead of front seats, there have been at least 118 known fatalities from heatstroke — a ten-fold increase from the rate of the early 1990s.

Children who have died from vehicular heatstroke in the United States (1998-2012) have ranged in age from five days to 14 years. More than half of the deaths are children under two years of age.

Research in Barbados does not show that similar incidents resulting in death have occurred. However, there have been some media reports of children being forgotten in cars, or locked in homes while parents or guardians either went out to work, shop, party or to visit neighbours. Police picked up one child while wandering in the Black Rock area at night, after the mother had apparently left to attend a party.

After this particular case was brought before the court, the mother, weeping, explained that she had secured the child in the house, and only intended to be gone for an hour but time just got away from her. Barbadian public opinion and the courts did not quite like her explanation for what happened and responded appropriately.

Social scientists who have been studying this behaviour suggested that it may be due to a number of factors that can all be attributed to the needs of an ever changing society.

One significant factor reviewed was an increasing number of single parents — all between the ages of 16 and 30; having two or more children. The majority of single parents were female who were either unemployed or working two jobs, and still attempting to retain a social life.

Another factor considered was that the structured social services established by government to assist single parents during daytime hours did not have an after-hours programme that would allow the single parent to participate in other activities; suggesting that it was not government’s responsibility to be an after hours baby sitter for partying single parents.

Something to think about as Crop-Over Festival 2013 starts to peak this weekend.

A report released in London on Wednesday by Thomson Reuters Foundation, stated that humanitarian agencies are not paying enough attention to the aid needs of older people and young children when responding to emergencies.

In the 2012 Consolidated Appeal Process which covers both United Nation and Non-Governmental Organisation relief activities, about two per cent of project proposals targeted older people, and about four per cent were specifically aimed at children under five. The report, produced by HelpAge International, an aid group that supports the elderly in crises, stated that only around 55 per cent of these projects were actually funded.

It said that in examining the amount of available funding, projects for young children fared better, getting 12 per cent of the US$5.8 billion donated by governments; while those for older people were allocated a mere one per cent. It suggested that there were countries in which older people’s particular needs were being completely ignored.

Frances Stevenson, head of emergencies at HelpAge said: “This was completely unacceptable and raises serious questions for the humanitarian community, not least because the situation constitutes a breach of the humanitarian principle of impartiality.”

He added: “Older people may have problems taking part in aid distributions because they cannot walk or see well and would benefit from priority queuing, or they may require treatment for chronic diseases, which is often overlooked in disaster response.”

The report stated that Marcus Skinner, humanitarian policy manager at HelpAge, had emphasised that their evaluation did not include all aid projects, and could not capture how specific groups are catered for on the ground.

It however pointed to wider evidence that indicated that the humanitarian system is not delivering assistance based on a clear understanding of people’s needs and how best to meet them.

Case in point: there are billions of dollars of international aid earmarked for Haitian earthquake victims that is still tied up in red tape and administrative delays almost two years after the devastation.

Impacted populations vary in the severity in each crisis, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation report suggests that there may be a problem in the international aid community and it response to victims; and that aid groups are not meeting the needs of vulnerable groups including adolescents and people with disabilities.

There appears to be a type of behaviour during an emergency that suggests the international community has a short-term response to a crisis and forgets that the concept of international aid should be based on the long-term recovery needs of the victims and not on how the funds should be prioritised.

Older people and children under five years may account for as much as a quarter of an impacted population in some disaster scenarios and Chantal’s recent visit may only be just the beginning.

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