By Mercy Ochiagha. Mercy lives in Warri, Nigeria. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Every creature cares for their young, it is a natural instinct to shield and keep alive offspring. To each his own – the birds build nests for their eggs or chicks, provide for them till they are able to fly on their own; the lioness protects her cubs, keeps them safe from her pride and other animals during the first few months after birth; and man, in whose case parental care can go on for life.

Having a child goes with the undeniable knowledge of a responsibility, that the survival of someone else depends on your care. It is not to be taken lightly, actually it is a frightening thought because your life changes, you no longer live for yourself alone but for another, and your actions, whatever they may be, have direct consequences on them. You worry for their comfort and safety every minute. Some say it is like having your heart outside of your body. Not everyone can handle this challenge though, not everyone is fit to be a parent – it is just too much work for some people to make room in their lives for another, even a child. So it becomes someone else’s business. A cowardly act, as no child asks to be born.

Parents make sacrifices every day, and do their bit. Mothers and fathers alike work as security guards, maids, nurses, doctors, mechanics, plumbers, factory workers, policemen/women, hairstylists, lawyers and lots more. Being able to provide for the needs of their children is the priority, even when the hours are long and the pay is bad. They slave away at jobs they may not like, or would not speak proudly of, absorb all the stress of the day just to go home and be there for their children when they need help, bid them good night and pray that they will always be safe. Will parents who make such daily sacrifices ever put their child in harm’s way and not care for their safety? Certainly not.

You see to what lengths parental love and care can go when children are in danger, when they are ill, missing or in a position to be hurt by someone or something. A mother reacts to the news of her child’s cancer by saying,

“Why him and not me? I have lived, he is just beginning his life…”.

No parent wants to watch their child suffer pain, they would rather take it, if it were possible. Parents stay at the bedside of sick children in hospitals, sleep deprived, mentally and physically drained, yet constantly giving comfort and hope. They are scared of what might happen, but there is nowhere else they would rather be. It is because of this strong devotion that no child wants to be without the love of a parent, that they want someone to run to when they are in trouble – a place of unconditional love and support. When this is absent, children feel the impact, the void, and society ends up bearing the burden in the end.

Love is a very powerful emotion; I dare say it is the strongest human instinct, even greater than that of survival, and I would challenge any contrary argument. There are times, however, when parental love means leaving one’s child in the hands of unknown circumstances, times when a parent’s only choice is to choose the lesser of two evils and pray they have made the right decision. Some mothers faced with the horrible choice of saving their life or that of their child during labour, chose to save their child, paying the ultimate sacrifice. They will not have the privilege of watching their children grow up, they will not be there to keep them safe or hold them when they cry. It is the choice they made to reject the alternative, which is to watch their child die, and that for them was the greater evil. Such children can only learn of the sacrifice made for them when they are older, and realise how dearly they were loved.

It is due to this same love that parents faced with deportation from a foreign land in which they have sought refuge, would rather choose to leave their children behind in safety, than to take them along to suffering. This is because they know that home is not safe, and that the worse their child may face in the foreign land is far better than the best of home. They know that their children could have better health care, education and living standard, that home is plagued by war, genocide, hunger and disease, where the only thing that increases daily is the death toll. It was William Ellery Channing who said,

“The chief evil of war is more evil. War is the concentration of all human crimes… If it only slew man it would do little.”

War is all some people have known their whole lives. It is the image of terror and nightmare that tears families apart. It is why home is a death zone and you flee from it with your children. Staying most likely means choosing to die, and it is a matter of when, not of if. While this may be hard for some of us to imagine, it is the very reality many people face today. And who would leave their child in that?

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