Mother and Child

“Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer”. As admonitions go, that above the main entrance to the Old Bailey (the Central Criminal Court) in London is hard to better. And since – not least it seems in the City of London, the home of the Old Bailey – wrongdoers too often go unpunished and the children of the poor go unprotected, perhaps we should consider once more the wisdom of our forebears.

Children of the poor, and the not so poor for that matter, have been having a raw deal of late. This week there was reported the case of a nine-year old Polish boy whom a court in Warsaw ordered to repay a loan taken out by his deceased grandfather. Despite their poverty, when the family refused to repay the sum of £3,500 outstanding on the loan, the loan company took the boy to court and won, although he had had nothing to do with the original loan and is below the age of legal responsibility. Surprisingly, perhaps, this is nothing new in Poland. Last year bailiffs surpassed themselves by pursuing a two year old baby until the court put an end to the nonsense.

The problem, of course, is the inheritance provisions of the Polish Civil Code which (and here I summarize radically) provide that an heir takes on pretty much everything unless he declines the inheritance within a relatively short period. The trouble arises when folk do not find out in time that they actually are heirs and lack the knowledge or wherewithal to take the necessary action. Nevertheless, one might at least expect courts to take sensible view when children are involved but it seems, and not for the first time, neither justice nor common sense prevailed. Of course most courts dispense law not justice but I live in hope.

Be that as it may, at least these two children are still alive. Unlike the seven week old baby whose mother, a 24 year old Polish woman living in the UK, has been charged with his murder. The mother had been living in Oldham with her 35-year-old English boyfriend and a 26-year-old Polish lodger both of whom were charged with child neglect. The father of the child, with whom the mother had been in a “relationship” until September last year was unaware that he had a son. This case has echoes of the Pelka case last year when a Polish mother and her boyfriend (a criminal wanted in Poland) living in the UK starved her four son to death. The couple, who were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, seemed to have money a plenty for vodka and narcotics but thought that feeding their son salt, beating him about the head, and keeping him locked in a dark room to die alone was a good idea.

As I have written here before, children are our future and they deserve the best we can give them. Subjecting them to the perils of transient and irregular relationships is not the best, either for them or for the rest of us. It may be common in the animal kingdom for the offspring of the mother’s former mate to be slaughtered when a new male arrives, but one does expect better of humans (although the Ottomans had rather singular habits in this regard). What does it really say about us as humans and our faith in the future when we allow to prevail values inimical to the creation and nurturing of new life?

Cruelty to children may be beyond my comprehension but I do understand the difficulties many parents face daily. In its report Living Conditions for Families in Poland, the Polish central statistical office has revealed that 1.4 million Polish children are living in poverty with large families in small towns being the hardest hit. Apparently, some ten per cent of families of three children and 26.6 percent of families of four children and more are below the poverty line. Poverty means that over half a million Polish children are unable to eat a meal containing meat, fish or poultry (or a nutritious vegetarian equivalent) at least once every two days, and about 450,000 Polish children do not have all the required school textbooks. Where is the Polish government’s self-proclaimed economic miracle when you need it? The answer is that for many people it simply does not exist. Subtract from the GDP figures the effect of EU subsidy and remittances from millions of Poles working abroad, look at the unemployment rate and, despite the boast (the prime minister’s word, not mine) the economy did not, in effect, avoid recession.

No wonder then that Polish women are having babies in the UK at twice the rate they are having them in Poland. The UK’s National Statistical Office has found that the average Polish-born woman in England and Wales has given birth to 2.13 children, while comparative statistics in Poland show an average birth-rate of 1.3 children. British women give birth at a rate of 1.9 children on average. Professor Krystyna Iglicka, rector at the Łazarski University in Warsaw, said that the increase in willingness to have children in the UK by Polish couples reflects their settled life there, both socially and on the labour market, the birth rate reflecting a “broad sense of security.” In contrast, in Poland, the working-age population (15-64 years old) is predicted to fall by 40 percent within the next 50 years, as the population ages. Irena E. Kotowska from the Polish Institute of Statistics and Demography says that the UK is simply a much easier place than Poland in which to bring up children.

Conclusions? For enterprising Poles, from babies to business, the future’s bright, the future’s British.

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