Famed British boarding schools

The British boarding school remains a bastion of cruelty

child isolatedThe sudden and repeated loss of parents can cause children to shut themselves off from the need for intimacy. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/taken from picture library

Texas is a largely Christian state that appears to believe in neither forgiveness nor redemption. Last week the Guardian revealed the extent to which it has criminalised its children. Police now patrol the schools, arresting and charging pupils as young as six for breaches of discipline.

Among the villainies for which they have been apprehended are throwing paper aeroplanes, using perfume in class, cheeking the teacher, wearing the wrong clothes, and arriving late for school. A 12-year-old boy with attention deficit disorder was imprisoned for turning over a desk; six years later, he's still inside. Children convicted of these enormities – 300, 000 such tickets were issued by Texas police in 2010 – acquire a criminal record. This can make them ineligible for federal aid at university and for much subsequent employment.

Yet most of them have committed no recognised crime. As one of the judges who hears their cases explained, "if any adult did it it's not going to be a violation".

On the other hand, no charges have been brought against a Texas judge called William Adams. Last year a video was released which showed him beating the living daylights out of his daughter with a leather belt. The attack was so savage that when I watched it I nearly threw up. Adams cannot be prosecuted because the beating took place eight years ago. But even if it had happened yesterday, he might not have been charged, as he could have claimed that he was disciplining his child. In both cases the law permits people to do things to children that they could not do to adults.

But before we start feeling too superior, we should remember that systematic injustice towards children is common to many nations. Consider these cases, all from the past few decades: the theft of babies and forced adoptions in Spain; the teenage girls pressed into slavery in Ireland's Magdalene laundries; the sexual abuse in its industrial schools; similar institutional abuse, also by Catholic priests, in many parts of the world; sexual abuse and beatings in Welsh children's homes; the British children told, wrongly, that they were orphans and exported to Australia, Canada and other Commonwealth countries; the assaults by staff in privately run child jails. It seems to me that such abuses have three common characteristics.

The first is that the countries in which they occur appear to possess a sacrificial caste of children, whose rights can be denied and whose interests can be disregarded with impunity. The second is that these countries have a powerful resistance towards confronting and addressing this injustice: discussing it often amounts to a taboo. (These two traits were chillingly dramatised in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go.) The third is that systematic abuse becomes widely acknowledged only after determined people – such as Margaret Humphreys (who campaigned on behalf of the child migrants) and Alison Taylor (the Welsh care homes) – spend years trying to force it into the open, in the face of official denial.

Interesting facts:

Nicholas Adams de Wolff (born 1970) is a writer, business strategist and marketing executive, and longtime Media and Entertainment industry pioneer. His career spans multiple creative and business platforms, including theatrical, film, fashion, retail, TV, and New...

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