“Betray a friend and you’ll often find you have ruined yourself”―Aesop,
Generally speaking and barring some loners, human beings like to be surrounded with family and friends. There is a unique sense of security in the loving and caring environment of those who are close to one’s heart. A home hardly feels lived in unless there are a few of a kind to share its warmth. The fun, the get-togethers, the picnics, the celebrations, eating out or even at home, the moments of crying together in a tragic situation, the struggle to consolidate relations, the burning sensation of an irritable argument followed by soothing salves of making-up and forgiveness, all contribute to the joy of being in each other’s company. No matter what one does, there is nothing better than returning home within its protective walls and to those people who are proudly referred to as one’s own.
The level of confidence enjoyed by persons who have secure families surpasses those who suffer mental stress on account of unstable domestic environment. Successful people usually have supportive families that enable their pursuit towards achieving their goals in life or helping them to polish their talents or if nothing else, providing them a congenial atmosphere to harness their abilities. In many instances, especially in our country with its patriarchal social model, the mothers usually emerge as strong advocates for their gifted children and even in the presence of dictatorial fathers, they continue to ensure their relentless backing for fulfillment of their offspring’s ambitions. On the negative side, women like Ma Barker, who according to Jenny Kaplan was described unfairly by J. Edgar Hoover as “the most vicious, dangerous, and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade (probably 1910s-1920s), is alleged to have master-minded and organized her sons’ criminal activities in Mid-West USA proving the strength of maternal influence. Good or bad, there is no denying the fact that a close one can always be looked upon both as influencers and sheet anchors but what if the persons banked upon, turn into back stabbers?
There have been observed innumerable instances of back-stabbing at the hands of confidants, friends, co-workers, spouses etc. leaving many adults completely shattered but the most horrific effects of betrayal can be seen where innocent young children are victims. When such tragedies occur, especially in the event of involvement of relatives, they not only destroy the victim but all or some of the perpetrators and those associated with them. Being tortured and/or abused by strangers is understandable as they may lack empathy but at the hands of one’s own parents is beyond all reason yet these things do happen in real life.
One of the most appalling and blood-curdling stories of this century is that of Gabriel Daniel Fernandez. Born in February 2005 as the fourth child of Pearl Sinthia Fernandez and Arnold Contreras, Gabriel was immediately abandoned by his mother and placed in the custody of his maternal great-uncle and his male partner who both took immense care of the child until 2009 when his grandfather, objecting to the same-sex relationship of the guardians took him in his charge. In September 2012, Gabriel was handed over to his mother who at that time was in a live-in relationship with her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre along with her older children.
Thus began an excruciating eight months long ordeal for 8 years old Gabriel inflicted upon by his birth mother and her partner that ultimately led to his death on 24 May 2013. He was regularly beaten, burned with cigarettes, shot at with a BB gun, pepper sprayed, forced to wear female clothing, gagged and encaged in a small cupboard, subjected to ice-cold baths, was forced to eat spoiled or expired food, even cat litter containing its feces and sometimes his own vomit. During the trials spanning over four years in which Aguirre was accused of murdering the child while his mother was charged as accomplice and privy to the crime, Gabriel’s siblings stated that both their mother and step-father who believed that Gabriel was a homosexual, would laugh while he was abused. Incidentally, the other siblings were not exposed to this gruesome treatment. Eventually, in these highly publicized trials, Pearl pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole while Aguirre was given the death penalty after the jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree.
This heart-wrenching tale has much to offer in terms of being betrayed by those who should be most trust-worthy. These situations are bothersome for adults but when it comes to a child, the mental and physical damage cannot be measured. Many questions arose as to why the government’s child protection system failed to deliver or why the school did not take cognizance of Gabriel’s changed behavior and physique. Unfortunately, Gabriel is not an isolated case. In United States of America alone there is large number of reported cases of child abuse leading to murder. While Gabriel’s trials were in progress in the state of California, 150 such incidents cropped up in the same state. One cannot help but think that a super power exercising its moral control over the rest of the world has such a hideous face beneath its mask of being the flag-bearer of human rights.
“A Nation’s Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States” is a report of the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect and is worth reading https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED393570.pdf
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).