Monday, 10 March 2008

A Death in Goa: Who's Responsible?

In a perfect world you would be able to give birth to nine children, live on public assistance in a ramshackle caravan park in rural England, take your kids out of school for six months to travel to the drug-filled Indian resort of Goa, let your 15-year-old daughter have a 25-year-old "boyfriend," leave that daughter in the care of a "tour guide" while you and your other offspring headed off on your own tour in-country, and not end up with your daughter raped and murdered on the beach outside a sleazy bar. But we don't live in a perfect world, though it seems as if Fiona MacKeown still doesn't know that.

MacKeown is the mother of Scarlett Keeling, the 15-year-old from Devon whose suspicious death last month--the police originally said she had drowned--has now been ruled a murder. Scarlett's not the first Briton to be murdered in Goa. MacKeown says she should have been warned it could be a dangerous place: "The police really need dealing with as well because this is an ongoing thing, it has happened before many times and if they had dealt with it in the past, Scarlett may still be alive today."

Or perhaps, Fiona, if you hadn't taken her to Goa, or left her alone, or if you'd been able to convince her not to drink and drug to excess (a witness said Scarlett told him she had taken three drops of LSD, two Ecstasy pills and then snorted cocaine), Scarlett might be alive today.

There can be few things worse than being the parent of a murdered child, and of course the ultimate responsibility for Scarlett's death rests with her murderer. But being a parent means doing all you can to protect your child and I don't see how Fiona MacKeown can argue that she's anything other than a bad mother, eager to blame others for her own bad decisions.

I thought much the same thing when I read about a 14-year-old girl who almost died from downing a quantity of vodka outside a skate park not far from Oxford. An ambulance crew, confused by two similar-sounding town names, went to the wrong skate park. There's a legitimate fear that consolidating emergency services loses some local knowledge, but a 14-year-old girl chugging vodka? Did she have her parents' permission?

The English like to criticize Americans for our supposed victimology and the way we employ it to shift blame--"I was abused as child, that's why I'm not guilty of murder"--and yet they seem just as eager to embrace that mindset. Something bad happen to you? It's anyone's fault but your own.

8 comments:

mark from alexandria said...

This puts me in mind of the Natalie Holloway case. There was no sense of parental responsibility over letting an, apparently, unprepared older teen go off to Aruba with minimal chaperoning.

Not being a parent, it may be easy for me to say, but it seems to me that if you decide to breed, then accept the responsibility that goes with it. That includes saying "no," being the bad guy, and generally being a parent.

I hope to see more comments on this, Goa head, make John's day! (sorry, I couldn't resist)

Candadai Tirumalai said...

Tragic developments can overtake somewhat older people as well.Some twenty years ago a Guinness heiress, then an undergraduate at Christ Church in Oxford, celebrated the end of Finals at a wild party and later that night choked on her own vomit.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Personal responsibility - what an interesting concept!

Maybe the schools around here could start teaching it to the kids by making them responsible for their own homework, rather than foisting that responsibility off on the parents?

mark from alexandria said...

What a coincidence, Suburban Correspondent, one of the British papers has an article online today about the teachers' union voting to scrap homework because kids don't like it and its unfair to disadvantaged kids whose parents can't help them with it! Give me strength!

Henry said...

I agree with you, John, Fiona McKeown does sound like a terrible parent, but *purely* for the sake of argument, at what age are kids responsible for their own bad choices? And how long should they be "protected" by their parents? At most times in history, and in most cultures, people of 15, and certainly of 19 (as I think Natalie Holloway was) are considered adult, i.e. able to take care of themselves, hold down jobs, drink, kill other people, have their own kids, look after their old parents, and generally be grown-up. As a parent I agree you need to protect kids- I'm terrified of what might happen to mine - but as a college teacher I also see the terrible effects on "young adults" who have been so overprotected that they are unable to deal with life outside the nest. Having never had to make any responsible choices before, a number of them make terrible decisions about drugs, alcohol, sex and whatnot when they are finally let loose on their own. I've had 19-year olds ring up their mums in my office because they can't even decide their own course schedule: heaven knows how they're going to look after themselves after dark...

John Kelly said...

Well, those 19-year-old college students aren't prepared for "real" life because their parents didn't expose them to enough. But Fiona MacKeown exposed her daughter to too much. There's no instruction manual that comes with being a parent, but knowing where your teenager is--at least, where your 15-year-old is--at all times and what she's doing seems to me a minimum requirement.

Anonymous said...

How are parents supposed to give their kids experience in making responsible choices when teenagers are not permitted to set foot in the mall on weekend without mommy and daddy, whether they intend to roam in a gang or buy medicine for a sick parent? When shopkeepers use noise-generating devices to prevent youngsters from kicking a soccer ball ON PUBLIC PROPERTY in front of their stores? When a certain city government--you know which one, John--explicity allowed teenagers to stand on a public sidewalk outside their own home after curfew?

Maybe if making responsible choices gave teenagers some advantages over irresponsible friends, more of them would have some experience in making those choices.

Joyce said...

My HK blogging friend has a similar, if slightly less forgiving, take at http://fumierresartus.blogspot.com/