Colleen Figg

'What is murder?'

2009-05-22 10:00

The news on Tuesday of the father who drove over and killed his two children has unleashed a storm of very acrimonious debate all over the internet.

One forum member on the M&G Forum kicked off a thread on the subject by stating that if the article had reported the matter correctly, the father should be "sent away for life" as "clearly, they [the children] were not wearing seatbelts". (A sentiment I strongly disagree with, by the way. I really feel for this father and for the family).

This unleashed a volley of replies, pro and con, but a point raised by many was how a common oversight (the father not strapping the children in) becomes a crime when tragedy occurs.

Yet this same thing happens in every area in this country, judging by how many people complained of seeing parents with toddlers standing in the front seats, in the back seats of in between the seats. (A sight common to all of us, I think).

We were brought up wearing seatbelts before a law was promulgated to the effect that anyone in a car must wear a seatbelt, and for us it is second nature. Not so for many others.

My question is: is it criminal for a parent to disregard a "soft" law like the seatbelt law which is rarely enforced and if a man should be sent to jail for life as a result of a fatal accident arising from his children not being strapped in, then what should the penalty be for these parents who let their children leap, stand and clamber all over the car while they are driving?

Is the sight of a baby standing in the front seat something we should mutter about while we sit in traffic, or is it something we should report by way of taking photographs, noting down the registration number and reporting the parent/s to the police for immediate arrest and conviction?

Will the law ever allow a parent to be strongly convicted for a misdemeanour now that could become a crime later?

Meaning, if no accident ever occurs, all the parent will be guilty of is extremely bad judgement but if the child is injured or dies in an accident they'll become guilty of manslaughter or murder, depending on the charge.

Should we as a society start coming down hard on acts of casual negligence such as children not being strapped in?

Furthermore, if we go as far as to really push for strong enforcement on the seatbelt question, can we then hold government responsible for potholes that result in the death of people in cars, too?

Can liquor store holders be prosecuted for creating alcoholics? Will parents be called to account if they do not give their children a properly rounded education and do not see that their emotional IQ is well enough equipped to make intelligent fulfilling life decisions instead of self destructive ones?

What, after all, is murder?

Send your comments to Colleen.

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