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Society Builds Wall Between Men and Children

The cost is not just financial. Starved of robust, normal contact with adults -- particularly men -- outside the family, children remain infantilized. Driven to school in cars, continually supervised, they live in a bubble, failing to develop common sense and judgment about which strangers and situations are benign and which are dangerous. And it is a lonely bubble, in which adults seem not to care. Tonight, a British current affairs program, recently did an experiment in a shopping mall, in which a child pretended (very convincingly) to be lost and distressed. It took a long time before any passersby -- certainly male ones -- stopped to help her.

A kindly adult outside the family can act as confidant, mentor, and safety valve, as Esther Rantzen, founder of Childline, explained in a Daily Mail article denouncing hysteria about child abuse:

Last week, I met one of Europe's most successful architects. He told me his parents were extremely poor, and that because his mother had a serious mental illness, his father left the family home.

But they had a neighbor -- a man with no children of his own -- who noticed his talent when he was young and gave him art classes.

Suppose the neighbor had been a pervert? Well, it's possible, but is it likely? Here are some statistics on perpetrators of child abuse. As this is an American website, I will take them from a U.S. report, Child Maltreatment:

In FFY 2005, more than three-quarters of perpetrators of child maltreatment (79.4%) were parents, and another 6.8 percent were other relatives of the victim. Unrelated caregivers (foster parents, residential facility staff, child daycare providers, and legal guardians) accounted for less than 10.1 percent of perpetrators. Women comprised a larger percentage of all perpetrators than men, 57.8 percent compared to 42.2 percent. More than three-fourths of all perpetrators were younger than age 40.

Seemingly, the "dirty old man" in the park is the least of a child's worries. As the statistics show, most abuse, sexual or otherwise, takes place within the family. A particular problem in the UK's Muslim community is that of forced marriages, and in Islam, a girl is deemed marriageable at just nine years of age. In an article for the London Times on the connection between pedophilia and terrorism, Stefano Dambruoso, Italy's anti-terror magistrate, is quoted as saying:

The most you can attribute to them is a relationship between men and women different from that of us Westerners, in which -- as in many parts of the Arab world -- wives are often very young girls of 11, 12, or 13 who because of family negotiations are given in marriage to men much older than them. But that is not pedophilia; it is a question of Arab culture.

Really? One thing's for sure: a girl of "Arab culture" would not be allowed to play in the park by herself, and so would be safe from the dishonor wrought by an encounter with my friend John and an eight-week-old puppy.

This has to stop. Adults should talk to children in public, whether to joke, teach, comfort, or if need be to admonish. Normal adults, that is. Or are we prepared to leave the field clear for perverts and psychopaths?