Justice, or rather 1001 definitions of it, has been a hot topic in Seychelles for many years. This past week though, it has gone up a few notches on the Top 10 list of controversial topics. If the world was simply black and white, we would all know exactly what justice entailed and how we go about achieving it. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on what end of the political spectrum you stand) the world is full of shades of grey, and justice for Seychelles is as confusing a topic as it gets. Here, justice is thrown into a complicated mix, namely forgiveness, peace, and ‘bygones be bygones’ and I get the feeling that if you do not come across as focusing enough on the latter three, your argument falters. At least that is how I have been seeing it, until this morning when I read an interesting story which happened this week in the United States which gave me a somewhat clearer perspective on the issue.
18 years ago, a 16-year old girl gave birth to a baby in Florida. A few hours after the baby’s birth, it went missing in the hospital. An investigation and searches were carried out without any happy-ending results for the young mother. Her baby had been taken away and she had no clue for how long or even if she would ever see her again. Imagine being a new mother, add being a teenager to the mix, and now imagine getting up each day not knowing whether the child you had looked forward to being a parent to is alive or dead. It is a truly heart shattering situation.
Now, fast forward to January 2017. I am certain that the call that comes in informing any parent that their missing child has been found safe and sound is the greatest two minutes of their lives. I cannot imagine though in the case where a child has been missing for 18 years, what that must be like. I get goose-bumps thinking about it. Anyway, there you have it. A great day for the parents and the child, right? And the kidnapper can now pay for the crime she had committed, right?
Well, this is where it gets confusing. The kidnapper had lost her own child days prior to the kidnapping. In her heartbreak, she stole the baby, brought her home and raised her as her own for 18 years. The baby grew up into what so far seems to be a healthy, happy and intelligent young woman knowing and loving the woman who had raised her as her own mother. She is now heartbroken that her ‘mother’ is in jail and is insisting that she did nothing wrong. At the same time, she has met her biological parents and released a photo of all there of them smiling. Her father described the meeting to the media as ‘the best day of my life. It was a beautiful, beautiful day. We are so happy.’
So, who deserves justice in this case?
What would seem obvious would be the biological parents. I don’t need to go into the whys here. However, the justice that would seem fitting for them would break the heart of their innocent young daughter. She never asked for any of this. The love she has for her kidnapper is the same any of us have for our mothers. How could she have known? Another argument I am sure which will come up in this case will be the mental health of the kidnapper at the time of the crime. There is, I am sure, a medical name for whatever state she was in and maybe after some time she felt that she could provide a better life for that child as opposed to its young teenage parents. At this point, let’s go back to justice for the parents. From the tone of their statement after meeting their daughter, I got the feeling that there is a possibility they might consider publicly forgiving the woman who took their world away from them. (Let me iterate that this is just a feeling I have and no such thing has been confirmed). At the end of the day, when all is said and done, they have found their world again. She is alive and well and they now have a clean page to write their remaining life chapters. Their daughter would love them for forgiving the mother destiny chose for her and maybe, as painful as it may seem to the rest of us, they could all get on.
A recent Quentin Tarantino movie I watched, the Hateful Eight, made a point which I find hard to forget. The character, Oswaldo Mobray said, ‘For justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice.’ In other words, people who are emotionally invested in a what they perceive to be a crime simply cannot give justice to it. So who does? Well, I guess this why we have legal systems. The State of Florida is going to prosecute the kidnapper for the crime irrespective of how the victims in this particular case may feel because they need to set a precedent. It is not OK for someone, irrespective of the situation, to steal anyone’s baby. It doesn’t matter if they are older and more mature. It doesn’t matter if they are financially more stable. It doesn’t matter if they are able to provide a better life for that child. It is not their right to do so, in fact it is a crime. While us, the spectators, look in from outside and find it all heart-warming, we must not forget that the State of Florida cannot afford to send out a message that says you know what, if you treat a stolen baby right, the love it develops for you over the years will be your jail-free card if you’re ever caught.
That, I understand completely. It is logical and unemotional. In trying to make a comparison to what justice means for Seychelles I will say this; regardless of how we may feel about past events we need to understand and decide on what we never want to be part of the Seychelles’ story again – if any. After that, the State, through the appropriate institutions, owes it to its people, its future generations, to ensure whatever it may be, is never repeated. I will though conclude that whatever course of action needs to be taken it needs to be one that opens the door for everyone to heal.
And who will benefit from that? All of us.