A Safer World for Our Children
01 December 1996

No biterness for husband's muder by a teenager, but call for the government to abandon its neutral stance on family life

Revelations of the atrocities by and against children around the world have caused much soul-searching. In recent months, Britain has agonized over the massacre of 16 schoolchildren and their teacher in Dunblane, and the fatal stabbings of 12-year-old Nikki Conroy in her classroom and of London headmaster Philip Lawrence by a pupil.

Extremes of evil in society need to be countered by great goodness. The courage of Philip Lawrence's widow, Frances, is an example of this. She has expressed no bitterness towards, but only sadness for, her husband's young murderer, a Triad-style gang leader from a broken family.

Mrs Lawrence called for Britons to `unite in a nationwide movement for change'. This would include a ban on the sale of combat knives; primary school lessons in good citizenship; and the government abandoning its `neutral' stance on family life. It would also have a spiritual dimension: `My hope is that out of the terrible violence that pierced the heart of my family and generated such headlines, a new ethos may be constructed in which neglected virtues are reinstated and cherished and sustained,' she wrote in The Times.

The Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that every citizen could play a part. Indeed, we can all examine our consciences to see where we have fallen short in our care for one another. Legislation does not absolve us from moral choice. Society - and that means all of us - also needs to rethink the boundaries between entertainment, pleasure and an insatiable lust for gratification. Frustrated demand for gratification - `I want it all and I want it now' - can all too easily lead to violence. Conversely, in denying ourselves we liberate our care for others.

Mrs Lawrence also calls for the renewal of family virtues. She would be the first to acknowledge that children can suffer deep psychological trauma when their families break up. Philip Lawrence's murderer, Learo Chindamo, found in his gang a `family' denied to him at home. This is why Mrs Lawrence could even say that she had sympathy for him.

The government, in election year, needs to make the nurture of family values an absolute priority. But parents themselves have the ultimate responsibility in preventing their homes becoming `atomised', in Frances Lawrence's word. Mrs Lawrence deserves support from every quarter in her call for change. What better way of preparing for the new millennium than by determining on a new start, in which every citizen can engage?
Michael Smith

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