Seen And Not Heard
As a young pupil who attended a strict, traditional Church school, I remember very often being told that 'children should be seen and not heard'.
Probably because my parents were never the unyielding tyrant types, this phrase was hardly ever used at home, so, whenever someone said those words to me, I felt so enraged that if I didn't have the benefit of a child's body, I would have popped an artery.
Whilst other children would bow their head in shame whenever those words were thrown at them, I found it so rude and oppressive to try to shut me up just because I was a child that, I went ballistic.
Soon enough however, I learnt that objecting and contesting this oh so popular phrase, was futile and counterproductive. For a while I tried to act like the other children and keeping quiet, but I couldn't help feeling that if I (or anyone else for that matter) had something to say, we should have a right to say it despite our age.
My arguments and relentlessness landed me in more trouble than I could handle, more times than I could count, and this is what eventually led me to writing.
Since there was absolutely nothing that I hated more than being muzzled for no other reason other than that of being three feet tall, whenever I was told to 'be seen and not heard', I fetched a piece of paper and scribbled down whatever it was that I was not being allowed to say at that moment. In that way I felt safe in the knowledge that I wasn't going to forget whatever it was that I wanted to say and, that I will one day get the opportunity to say it.
Thankfully, my antics and my need to be heard were never as life-threatening as those being faced by Ella Bridge - the 10 year old girl who could be forced to leave Malta and live with her estranged but biological mother in the UK.
From what I gathered from news reports, Nicki Lee, the girl's biological mother, has been pretty much absent from her daughter's life. Two years ago, Ella's father Richard, who for all intents and purposes has been Ella's sole carer for longer than Ella can remember, moved to Malta together with his partner and her son.
Because Ella's mother had not been exercising her custodial right as a parent, Richard did not ask for her permission to move Ella to Malta, but Lee successfully argued in a British court that her permission should have been sought before her daughter was taken away from the UK.
The father tried to appeal the decision in The Family Court in Malta but sadly (even though a girl's future depends on it) the appeal was thrown out on the legal technicality that it was filed two days late.
Now, the father has filed a constitutional application claiming that Ella's rights had been breached because the court did not give her a chance to talk and be heard. After a legal roller-coaster ride, and after many close shaves with the police and social workers who turned up at the girl's home to take her away from the only family she knows, the father has finally managed to secure an interim suspension of the order until Ella can have her say in court.
Last Thursday, the father's lawyer, Dr. Aaron Mifsud Bonnici asked the court to appoint a psychologist who could assess the effects of removing the child and placing her in a foreign country, but despite sustaining his argument with cases from the European Court of Human Rights, Mr. Justice Joseph Azzopardi dismissed Dr. Mifsud Bonnici's request, arguing that his main concern was the child and that judgement had to be handed down by next week. The hearing has now been set for Wednesday, when the judge will hear the girl in his private chambers before the case starts.
Whilst I don't want to go into the legal loop holes that make such a dreadful situation possible, I find it sickeningly sad to think that I live in a world where it's possible for the fate of a 10 year old girl to be decided without her having a say.
Just to put you in the picture, a ten year old is capable of understanding percentages, fractions, decimals and algebra. A ten year old is capable of speaking up to five languages; she's capable of abstract thought, of understanding irony, satire, cynicism and hypothetical situations.
A ten year old has dealt with bullies and with peer pressure. She is likely to have sat for over 100 exams and tests, she's dealt with sibling rivalry and has made and lost friends, family members and pets. And with a child's formative years being between one and five, the character of a ten year old is mostly formed and framed, and will not change much in the years to come. And yet, despite all this, it is not her automatic God-given right to be heard in a case which will determine her future.
To say that the situation is sad is an understatement. The truth is that such an approach is as helpful to a child's well-being as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.