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Step-parents: The need to choose cautiously

By Helen Ovbiagele

Violence in its varied forms has assumed such gigantic dimension  all over the world that it has become the monster which has the world in its grip.  Anywhere you turn there’s one form of violence or the other – both outdoor and indoor.

You can no longer run to the safety of your own home, because you don’t know what awaits you there; and this may not be visible physical danger, rather, it could be  the ingredients festering  in the heart of a member of your family, waiting to erupt.  Women and children are usually the most vulnerable, as they are the ones who are attacked frequently.

The genre of violence which is becoming very worrisome in the world today, however, is the one inflicted by step-parents, particularly step-fathers, on their step-children.  From time immemorial it was step-mothers who treated their wards wickedly.

There are of course step-mothers who are wonderful mothers to their husbands children, and even going on to play the role of a good step-grandmothers.   I don’t know how this bad label of wickedness came to be attached to step-mothers, but throughout the world a child, with a step-mother is automatically regarded with pity, because it is assumed that  she’s treating him/her badly.

People in the middle-age bracket and upwards are familiar with the Cinderella story, where her step-mother was a wicked woman who treated her like a slave in the house; and who refused the beautiful girl going alongside her own ugly daughters, to the mandatory ball for young ladies, to meet Prince Charming.

A fairy godmother came to the rescue, and with a wave of the wand, transformed the servant girl into a beautiful princess, put her in a magical chariot and sent her to the ball.  She was of course the cynosure of all eyes at the dance, and the prince was attracted to her at once.  They go on to marry and live happily ever after.

These days,  it seems step-fathers have taken over the role of wickedness to their wards from step-mothers, whose usual attitude was limited to mal-treating their husband’s children; depriving them of adequate food and clothing, and their father’s love and attention, and using them as servants in the home.  Hardly would you hear that they’ve physically killed their step-children.  What we hear are  alleged claims of  their using ‘juju’ to eliminate them, when any of them dies.

In recent weeks, there have been distressing news of  step-fathers who tortured/killed their step-children.  In the case of a South African woman, it was her boyfriend’s son, who had a crush on her own son, and killed the latter when he shunned his alleged advances.

‘A 14 year-old boy from Vanderbijipark has been stabbed to death, allegedly by the son of his mother’s boyfriend, according to a report on Thursday.  Dante Chan (14) was found dead by his mother, Yolanda Coetzeel (37), on Tuesday afternoon, with a steak knife protruding from his chest  in the driveway of the alleged attacker’s home,  the paper Beeld, reported.

His mother had gone to pick him up after cricket practice.  A third year student from North West University who was arrested in connection with the incident, had been obsessed with the victim for a long time,  according to Coetzee, who is in a relationship with the alleged attacker’s father. She said, ‘They had tried sending him (the attacker) away to get help.  We moved into a high security complex five months ago, precisely to get away from him.’

Sadly, that precaution had not prevented the attack.  One may well ask  if the mother of the deceased 14 year old could have done more to protect her son.  It wasn’t her boyfriend who attacked the boy who would have become his step-son, if the couple marry, but it was alleged that it was his son who ‘was obsessed’ with the  boy, who caused his death.

Should the lady  have ended her relationship with her boyfriend, when she realized that his son had that problem, so that the two boys would no longer be in each other’s life?  Would this have dissuaded the son’s attacker?  It wasn’t said that he was against the lady’s relationship with his father.

He simply wanted the boy, it was alleged. Instead of moving to get away from the attacker, could she have sent her son away from her and his attacker, perhaps to another town or state?  These are some of the questions that the poor lady would ask herself throughout her life.  The loss of a human being is forever.  He/she can never be replaced.

In Britain, the other year, among other cases of little children being maltreated until they die, by the man in their mother’s lives,  there was the very tragic case of  ‘Baby P’, who suffered gravely at the hands of his mother’s live-in boyfriend, until he died.

In the poor baby’s short life, the man stubbed his cigarettes out regularly on the baby’s body, beat him mercilessly when he cried, and dashed his head against the wall, with the baby’s mother looking on; doing nothing to protect her son. Neighbours reported to the welfare department, but when officers came, the couple explained the injuries the baby suffered away somehow, and even doctors and nurses who treated him, believed them.

It was when he died that the gory details of maltreatment came out, and the couple were arrested and charged to court for murder.  The man claimed that the baby cried and misbehaved.  They got jail terms, with the man’s greater than the woman’s.

Nearer home, just the other week, we read of the ‘Murderous Step-Father’ who was alleged to have hacked his step-daughter’s 8 days old baby  to death in Delta State. It was alleged that the man lives in Ghana, but visited home regularly, and it was in Ghana that he was allegedly told to bring human parts for money rituals.

The man is said to be married to the grandmother of  the baby girl, and she has four children for him.  The report in the Vanguard of 12.8.2012 quoted the Delta State Police spokesman as saying that a woman from Okunu village Jesse, came to report on Saturday August 4, that her step-father walked into the apartment and killed her 8 day old baby girl.”

I don’t know if divine providence would work for every one parent/parentless child in the world, like in the case of Cinderella,  but the important thing is that a single mother  who is desirous of getting married again and giving her children a step-father, should give the matter a lot of thought.  Life is lonely out there for the single mother, but she should consider very carefully, and investigate thoroughly, who she brings into her children’s lives.

Theresa May, the British minister for Home Affairs, Women and Children’s issues, is sponsoring a bill over there which would make it mandatory for the Police to produce on demand, the records of a violent man, when the woman in his life asks for them.

If we have that sort of thing passed into law here, it might help the numerous women who want to know whether their man has a record of violence or not, so that they can know whether it’s safe to continue in such a relationship.

“That’s assuming, Helen, that our law enforcement agency does have and keep such records, and will comply and make it available, on demand.  Such a thing wouldn’t agree with our character, particularly if it has to do with ‘important people.’ ”, observed a friend.

Now, that comment is worth thinking about, isn’t it?


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