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ANTHONY HAYDEN QC, St Johns Buildings, Manchester
This is the third world Congress on the Rights of the Child that I have been fortunate enough to be able to attend. In South Africa, 4 years ago, I listened to speakers trying to change attitudes and practices in various parts of the world to the truly shocking practice of female genital mutilation, a challenge continued by Dr Ann Kleinitz (Australia) at this Congress. The Congress has also impressed upon me the extent to which policy directives and platitudes are no substitute at all for the International Police, Government and Social Services' co-operation that is crucial, if any real impact is to be made on child trafficking.
It is difficult to crystallise exactly what one learns from these occasions but listening to delegates from all over the world has contributed to my changing understanding of what constitutes a family. In some cases a family, I believe, can be an entire village. Family units from abroad, perhaps not always linked by blood ties, can sometimes be treated with great suspicion when they seek to establish themselves in the UK. They are at risk of being assessed or evaluated on inappropriate models. I recall one case in which an African child was placed in a foster home. Within hours of arriving she was referring to the female foster carer as 'mummy'. All kinds of sophisticated interpretations were placed on this by social workers and psychologists. It was thought to be illustrative of an insecure attachment and the extent of the child's neediness. It was, in fact, simply a term of respect that would be immediately recognised all over Africa. It is, I suspect, mirrored by the use of the term 'aunty' in the Indian subcontinent.
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