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MALAIKA MAHLATSI | Delinquent children still deserve our emphathy

There is a chance to rehabilitate and redeem ‘violent’ kids.

Children need our love and protection even when they least deserve it. In fact, they need it more when they least deserve it because it’s when they're at their lowest that they need to be reminded of their inherent goodness and capacity for redemption.
Children need our love and protection even when they least deserve it. In fact, they need it more when they least deserve it because it’s when they're at their lowest that they need to be reminded of their inherent goodness and capacity for redemption.
Image: 123RF

Last Friday, a 13-year-old learner from Primrose Hill Primary School in Germiston was arrested for allegedly shooting his principal.

According to the Gauteng department of education, the school principal saw learners sitting in the foyer and told them to take out their workbooks to study. The learner, who is in grade 6, mumbled something in response, but the principal ignored him.

Later, the principal came across the same learner near the staff room and that was when the child opened fire, shooting the principal. Minutes later, the child scaled the school fence and attempted to run away. Shortly thereafter, he was apprehended by members of the community and security guards, who later handed him over to the police.

Footage of the child being apprehended was released on Tuesday morning and immediately went viral. I watched it – repeatedly. I don’t know what I expected a learner who had just attempted to kill his school principal would look like. But I do know that I didn’t expect that he would look like such a child. In the video, several voices can be heard screaming at him.

A man, holding the gun that was taken from the boy shortly before, can be seen holding it, asking: “Whose gun is this?” With a trembling voice, the child responds: “It’s my daddy’s”. The vulnerability in the voice is palpable. It’s in stark contrast to the gruesome crime that he had just committed. It’s the voice of a terrified child. And as he’s dragged to a security guard’s vehicle, he’s not the image of a deranged shooter who, as it is being reported, premeditated the crime. He’s the image of an ordinary child, no different to my younger brother, Lumumba, at that age.

The comments about the video are distressing. Most of them are calling for the child to face the full might of the law. Some are going as far as to call for the death penalty to be reinstated in order to “deal with such monsters”. While I understand the outrage and certainly sympathise with the principal who was subjected to such unimaginable violence, I could never advocate for a 13-year-old to spend the rest of his life in prison.

I could never support the idea that a child so young is beyond redemption. I am firm in the belief that no child is born a monster – monsters are created by society. Violence begets violence. When a child grows up in a society where violence is the norm, that becomes their socialisation.

Schools are a microcosm of the broader society, not a parallel universe that is unaffected by the degeneration that is happening in our communities. This child who could shoot his school principal in cold blood is a product of a home, a community and a society in which conflict is resolved through violence.

After all, he is a citizen in a country where an average of 83 people are murdered each day – a society where violent crime is so normal that we have all become desensitised to it. If anyone should be in prison, it is us the adults who have made children inherit such a dysfunctional society.

In the legitimate outrage that we are all feeling about this senseless crime, we must remember that the perpetrator is only a child.

Children need our love and protection even when they least deserve it. In fact, they need it more when they least deserve it because it’s when they are at their lowest that they need to be reminded of their inherent goodness and capacity for redemption.

If we discard rather than rehabilitate children who commit crime, we communicate that they’re undeserving of compassion. And when we do that, we lay the foundation of understanding the profundity of the African proverb that says: “A child who is not embraced by a village will burn it down to feel its warmth”.


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