Paris 3eme – the fate of a child

Trying to get to heaven ...
Trying to get to heaven …

Jojo was crying. She’s well-travelled and she’s a tough nut; She’s seen the best and the worst that life has to offer. What’s more, she’s a Parisienne. Parisiennes are battle-hardened. They don’t cry often. So something had got to her; Something had got through the sentries of her heart and touched her deeply. What was it?

After a while she told me:

Jojo had been walking in the 3eme arrondissement of Paris – in the environs of the beautifully named ‘Rue des filles du calvaire’ and then she had moved on down towards the river Seine. Just off the Boulevard Sebastopol she found herself passing a clothes bank. Paris has installed a number of such banks into which the residents of the city can deposit articles of clothing; the clothes are then collected and either sent by charities to help clothe refugees (or people without many resources) or they are recycled. The banks are well-designed: there is small cylindrical opening in which the clothes can be pushed – after which they fall into the black inner space of the apparatus.

As she glanced at the clothes bank she saw a middle-aged man lift up a young girl (perhaps eight years old) and stuff her through the tiny opening in which the clothes are usually deposited. The girl disappeared from view; there was only one place that she could be – and that was inside the dark inner chamber – amongst the clothes. The man waited nonchalantly and continued to wait. Meanwhile the young girl was left inside the clothes drum. In any normal circumstances the situation facing the girl would have been unbearable. In fact, it would be a long moment in Hell. Would she even find a way out of that dark interior?

Immediately opposite the clothes bank was a police station. In fact it was the main police station of the 3eme arrondissement. And so Jojo made her way to that station in order to report what she had seen: inexcusable child-abuse. But then at the entrance of the station she realised that there was every chance the police would not ‘do anything’ or even treat her concern with derision. So she turned away – feeling a kind of desperate helplessness. She imagined that the man who had placed the child in the clothes bank was part of an extended family of people from other lands and from a culture practising a different way of life. She imagined that in such a family constellation the girl was not accorded any rights. She was a resource to be exploited and used. She was fated to be used.

Together this moved her to tears. Jojo was deeply upset.

But on reflection what was also depressing was the realisation that in France a citizen cannot assume that their concerns will be given a fair or sympathetic hearing by the police. There is often an unfortunate distance between the police and the public policed.

This contrasts markedly with the ethos of the police in the UK. There, child abuse is taken very seriously; some of the most impressive police officers work in the area of child protection. They do their best to care for the well-being of children and especially the well-being of vulnerable children. They would certainly do their best to stop children from being stuffed into clothes banks, then to be left alone in the dark to search for discarded or unwanted clothes. The UK police would surely intervene in order to prevent these children from being abused and exploited by their wretched parents.

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