My National

My National

Sex, drugs and rape...I blame the parents

  |  March 19, 2013

When my traineeship at The National began, I was excited to hear I would start by covering court. I'd always wondered what went on at a trial and whether it was like what I had seen on television. The experience promised to be a highlight of life in the newsroom, so when the opportunity arose, I wasted no time in taking it.

Having now covered many trials, I have to admit, I love court reporting.

I love the drama of court, and the passion it provokes when controversial cases appear in the newspaper. The court rooms may not be as big as on TV, and not as scary, but there’s always plenty of drama.

On my first day, I couldn’t fail to notice just how crowded the place was. Busy-looking people holding stacks of folders and piles of papers would whirl around me, lost in a kafka-esque labyrinth as they searched for their destination; others would walk in calmly, knowing exactly where to go.

At first, I was one of those lost in the labyrinth, feeling hopelessly out of place. Even differentiating between the lawyers and the judges seemed an impossible task.

Thank God my colleague Haneen was there to guide me, showing me what to do, where to sit and who to speak to. Slowly but surely, I saw a method to the madness.

As I did so, I noticed a disturbing trend. Most of the defendants were young men, aged 20-30, usually Arab and more often than not accused of crimes such as sex-out-of-wedlock, buying and selling drugs and rape.

As a reporter, sitting through case after case, it’s easy to become indifferent to the fate of those before the court, but one trial in particular saddened me and stuck in my mind. A young man, 21, was facing life in jail for trading and consuming hashish.

We were the same age, but facing starkly different futures. I was looking forward to a sparkling career in journalism...he would probably spend his life in confinement. Two young lives, one with endless potential, one where potential had ended.

I remember too, his mother, the tears trickling down her face as she stared sadly at her son through the glass door that separated him from the rest of the court.

The glass is barely an inch thick, yet it is wide enough to separate two worlds. One of these is the world in which we reporters, lawyers and judges live – a cosy world full of clever people and glamorous careers where each case is written about, argued over and pontificated upon, before being filed away and forgotten, as we head back home to our families and fulfilling lives, and put to bed just another day at the office.

The other world is that of the defendant, a suspended world where all life stops, waiting for a judgment and the scales of justice to tilt.

In this case, those scales tilted in the young man’s favour, as he was judged to have a mental disorder and was spared a custodial sentence.

But the case made me wonder – would this young man’s brush with the law change him for the better? Or would he soon be back in front of the judge, having failed to have learnt his lesson?

And what about the mother, whose sorrow was so plain to see? Was it not her responsibility to show her son the right path in life? Then why had she failed?

Of course, neither the mother nor the father can be entirely to blame – at 21 their son was old enough to take responsibility for his own mistakes – yet at the same time every parent is responsible for their child’s upbringing.

My parents and siblings have played a very large role in my life, and it is because of them and their support that I am now enjoying a fulfilling career – rather than sitting in the dock.

I know that the encouragement my father has given me ever since I was a child has shaped the person I now am. Yes, I am flawed and I make mistakes...but are my mistakes equal to those who are serving time behind bars?

The truth is, this is just one of the countless cases in which young lives are being needlessly wasted. And in every case, I cannot help but wonder: Where are the parents? Why are they allowing their children to take such paths?

How many more lives must be wasted before parents realise that if they are to guide and influence their children they must first be present in their lives?

How long before they realise that if they do not help their children reach for their dreams, they too may be standing in a courtroom one day, crying as those dreams are crushed.