Learning through accidents

The third of four children to have suffered severe burns in the October 19 fire in Jaigaon has died. The death toll from the fire is now three children. Doctors at the Thimphu referral hospital couldn’t save the four-year-old girl who suffered more than 50 percent burns.

The accident was extreme. Four young children were locked inside the room when the house caught fire. But it was not surprising given the casual attitude of parents on children’s safety. And it was not new to Phuentsholing residents. The memories of three children, who were killed in a fire at the Toorsa river, when they were locked inside, are still fresh.

It is a tragedy that another three have had to perish in a similar situation and not long after the Toorsa accident. The incident reflects the plight of the families living in squatters and hutments along the border town. Economically disadvantaged and having to work for a living, leaving children unattended is common. Quite often, we see only children in labour camps or at cheap housing colonies.

With the pressure of urban life demanding a lot of time and some families even working double shifts, we hear many stories of parents leaving children at home, alone and locked from outside. They are not only the poor. Some have no time for their children, as they are busy gambling.

We have many regulations on safety, but this is one aspect that is missing. It is learnt that the Royal Bhutan Police is exploring the possibilities of penalising parents who leave their children unattended. They are exploring if it is backed by regulations.

Going by the number of innocent lives lost in such freak accidents, what the police are planning is a good decision. It will be difficult to check every home to see if children are left alone, but we need rules to remind people even for their children’s safety. In most countries, not attending to their own children is a crime. If a child dies because of negligence, parents are charged for involuntary manslaughter.

This will be difficult, but it will help parents take better care of their children. Today we feel for the parents not realizing that it was their negligence that caused the death of an innocent child.

However, legislation alone will not help. In the end some of the accidents are caused by human error and some by sheer negligence. What we should do is start with awareness. We need not tell parents to take care of their children, but we can warn them of dangers when a child is left alone or locked inside a house.

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