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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Child Alone In Car... Never

Yesterday I went to the market with my little one. As we were parking the car, I saw another car standing right on the side of a busy market road, with hundreds of cars and bikes and buses and vans rushing past. As I looked out, I saw a toddler, a boy of about 3-4 years, sitting on the driver's seat and fiddling with the steering wheel, and, the car keys, while all windows were closed. I tried to look inside the car and, to my horror, saw that the child was alone in the car. Even as our car came to a standstill, a man, the baby's father, came rushing out of a shop, and on seeing his son in the driver seat, quickly came over and opened the car door from the driver's side. I had full intentions of getting down and taking this further, but even before we pulled up and stopped, the careless and irresponsible father had driven off, this time putting the baby alone at the back, that too without a car seat!!!! Of course, what else could I have expected of him?

This is not a one-off case, and many parents who read this will not make much of it. For many parents, especially Indian parents, this is a common scenario, and if they are themselves not guilty of doing something similar, they find this pretty routine, and hardly confront a parent/person who has neglected a child in this manner. Abroad, this is a punishable offence, neglecting your child calls for charges and the accused parent faces investigation. In India, this 'chalta hai' attitude (its okay) is worming its way into our daily lives, and how.

As the heat wave spreads across the country, many children are again placed in grave danger by their own parents or caregivers. The scare is especially increased during vacations, when children are home all the time and parents have to tag them along for everyday errands. It is a common sight many times in India to see parents keep a child buckled to the seat, while they get down from the car and complete their many errands nearby. The parent(s) complete one errand after the other, keeping an eye on the child in between, while the little one is exposed to the danger of heat stroke or severe dehydration. Many parents do not realize the danger they are placing their child in by keeping them buckled or locked in an empty waiting car. If the car is safely parked, the child is safe – this is what many parents think. But this misconception is what puts our little ones in such danger.

As parents, it is a cause of much happiness to see our little ones sleeping peacefully. As it is, these moments are few and far between, and many times, while driving, when our little ones fall asleep, as parents we take all the precautions to make sure that nothing disturbs that precious sleep. So, if your destination has arrived and you know it’s just going to take you ten minutes to finish that errand and be back in the car, many parents feel it is okay, and in fact better, to let the child sleep peacefully, rather than wake them up and end up making the little one cranky and irritable. Also, if you are able to keep an eye on your child while you are finishing your work, what can go wrong, isn’t it?

Parents come in all thoughts and manners - some parents take that supposed precaution of cracking one window a little open, to let the basic amount of air come in; some feel it is okay to keep the car completely sealed while baby waits inside; some parents lock the car and keep the keys with them, while some make do by just closing the door and keeping the keys inside the car. Some parents keep the little ones buckled up in their car seats, or, since India is the country where parents and elder family members still need to be sent to a school to know the importance of a car seat, many keep their children, simply, inside the car. Like I said, parents come in all kinds of intelligence and mentality.

A baby left alone in a waiting car in the heat will always pose the threat of heat stroke, or severe dehydration, not to mention cases of theft and towing. In a shocking incident in America, a mother lost her 6-year-old son when she stepped out of her car to buy him some juice from a sandwhich shop. Even before she could reach the shop, a car thief spotted the keys inside the car and decided to steal it, despite the presence of the child in the back seat. The mother tried to free her child from the moving vehicle, but he became tangled in the seatbelt. She was knocked from the car as the driver sped away, dragging her 6-year old boy behind.

No parent should face this worst nightmare ever, and in this case, sadly, it was only the mother who can be blamed for what happened to the child. She lost her baby, and for life, the shock and grief, and not to mention, the guilt of putting her child in this fatal situation, will forever remain with her.

Keeping any child alone in the car is dangerous and should never be done. Period. No arguments, no logic about why you kept your child alone in the car. If you are getting out of the vehicle and there is no adult inside to accompany the child, you HAVE to bring the baby out of the car and take them with you. Period.

Abroad, a parent or person who shows negligence towards a child is dealt with severely. Authorities have begun to investigate such cases strongly and parents can be charged with negligence and endangerment. Most Indian parents will think of this as severe, but this is the only way to send out a message to such erring parents. And to keep your child protected, nothing is ever too much.

So next time you see a parent abandoning a child alone, get out there and make a noise. Tell them what they are doing wrong and make them feel ashamed of this gross carelessness towards their little ones.
And like I always believe in and say:
"Heal the world we live in
Save it for our children" - MJ

Debolina Raja Gupta