Andrew is eight-years old. He attends a special needs school. He has poor impulse control, a low attention span and an inability to communicate. He’s disruptive in class and finds it hard to make friends.
He is impatient and violent and frequently gets in trouble and puts himself in danger.
Andrew was always a slow developer and did not walk until he was three.
By the time he is 25, it is believed Andrew will have been in and out of prison many times.
But here’s the thing.
Andrew’s special needs were 100 per cent avoidable. Andrew has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, and he has only one person to blame – his mother.
In the justice system throughout Australia there are literally thousands and thousands of “Andrews.”
One in five women drink while they are pregnant.
And it is these women who might one day find themselves jailed for their selfishness.
A proposal by the Northern Territory Government to jail women who drink during pregnancy is gaining momentum.
The NT Attorney General is currently exploring the antenatal rights of the unborn child.
Attorney-General John Elferink told the ABC’s Lateline last week they were looking to “either prosecute or alternatively restrain [women] from engaging in conduct which harms their unborn child”.
“But that is something we have yet to explore in this jurisdiction forcibly.”
It is estimated up to 3000 babies are born a year suffering from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It is referred to as an ‘invisible disability’ as it often goes undetected.
In some cases symptoms are attributed to another known non-genetic condition – autism or ADHD – or even simply blamed on ‘poor parenting’.
Obviously something needs to be done. And someone needs to stand up for the rights of these unborn babies.
But who’s responsibility should it be? Is it up to the government to step in?
Your first gut reaction to this, is probably ‘yes’. If these women aren’t going to prioritise the needs of an unborn child then the government needs to.
But it isn’t that simple, is it?
In researching this article I had a discussion with a good friend – a lawyer and former Federal Government political advisor.
Her most salient point drove home just how knee jerk my initial reaction was.
It’s a social issue, she explained, not a criminal one.