Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Voice for Babies Around the World

I recently watched the movie "A Series of Unfortunate Events." This film covers the first three of Lemony Snickets's books and is quite thought-provoking. The film tells the story of the three Bauedelaire children- Violet, a 14-year old girl, Klaus, her 12-year old younger brother, and Sunny, a baby- who are orphaned when their parents perish in a fire. The fire also burns their lovely home to the ground so the children have nowhere to go. The film shows how Count Olaf, a strange man, tries to get the children's fortune by first making himself their guardian and then trying to marry Violet. The movie has lovely sets, and the children, as well as the other characters, are most engaging. It's an unusual film.

One of the highlights of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" is the baby, Sunny. The children are presented as Violet, the inventor, Klaus, the reader, and Sunny, the biter. Sunny is always dressed in an elaborate dressy costume; it's a long pink dress with ribbons. Sunny is shown biting a number of objects and humans, and in one scene she is shown hanging by her teeth from a table, her feet dangling in the air. Scrabble tiles are shown with pieces bitten off by Sunny, and Klaus is shown throwing a wooden spindle to her to bite, as one would throw a toy to a dog.

Sunny cannot speak English in the film, but she does speak baby gibberish. Subtitles tell what she supposedly is trying to say; the phrases are mostly sarcastic, comedic lines. This is a problem with babies worldwide; they try to communicate but are oft misunderstood. In fact, a main theme of the film is that children in general are not listened to by adults, and that adults miss what children are trying to make them understand. Throughout the film, the Bauedelaire children know that Count Olaf is trying to kill them to get their fortune, but none of the adults such as Mr. Poe the bank officer listen to them.

While watching the film, I thought of the many children throughout the world, in foster care, in abusive situations, in danger for their lives, who are trying to make someone understand their situations, or are afraid to even mention their situations. The Bauedelaire children are rescued at the end of the film, but their situation is not really resolved, leading to sequels no doubt. Babies like Sunny are especially at a disadvantage since infants cannot talk about mistreatment; they just have to suffer through abuse without a voice of their own. Usually child abuse is a hidden problem, and although babies cannot talk about it and might not even remember it later on, severe psychological damage can be done.

Brad Pitt recently visited Africa, and his visit was televised as he talked with Diane Sawyer. Pitt seemed very sincere in wanting to draw attention to the plight of African children who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic and civil wars. Over 10 million orphans, and an estimate of over 25 million in years to come, are there. Those numbers are staggering. What must it be like for babies and children to have no one to comfort them, to guide them, to nourish them?

Pitt told of one boy in a hospital bed whose face lit up with joy because he touched him on the chest. Touch is an important part of proper growth for babies, and scores of babies growing up without someone to hold them, rock them, and hug them will surely result in disaster later on. Psychological experiments were done in English orphanages by John Bowlby in the mid 20th century. Caretakers there were told to refrain from touching certain infants to see what impact that would have on the babies. Some of the babies died; they stopped eating and crying, and others did not develop properly. Bowlby concluded that babies who do not form attachments to or bond with an adult will have personality problems in the future. This is known as maternal attachment since most babies bond with their mothers first. Touch is now known to be an essential for normal infant development and in many hospitals premature babies are stroked and massaged, since it is known that this causes more rapid weight gain and healthy development.

Certainly the millions of African orphans need touch and hugging and bonding with adults, as do many other unfortunate babies and children around the world. Although many good-hearted people want to help out, money alone will not solve the problem. Brad Pitt has made a good start to bringing this problem to the world's attention. Who else will help?

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