By Melanie Phillips Last updated at 10:06 AM on 07th September 2009
Once again, Britain is recoiling from the sickening spectacle of childhood innocence being turned into its monstrous antithesis.
Two young brothers aged ten and 11 from Edlington, South Yorkshire, subjected two other little boys aged nine and 11 to sadistic attack and torture, leaving one fighting for his life.
What is so horrifying is that the attackers showed no empathy whatsoever with the suffering of another living being.
A sketch of the two brothers facing Sheffield Crown Court. They will be sentenced next month.
People call these boys 'evil' because such absence of feeling is inhuman. But they are not evil. They are children.
We are all born with the capacity for both good and bad. Everything depends on whether the immature child is raised in a way that develops the good and discourages the bad, or whether something goes wrong with that process.
To label these boys 'evil' is to let the real villains off the hook. These children are the product of evil attitudes within the adult world.
Their personalities have been warped and their ability to feel for others blocked off because they have been deprived of the essential condition for developing into normally functioning human beings: a secure and loving family in which the basics of civilised life are programmed into children's characters.
Instead, they were abandoned to fend for themselves in a pit of absolute degradation, cruelty and inhumanity.
Their mother, who has seven sons by three fathers, is an alcoholic and drug addict who left them to forage from rubbish bins and fed them cannabis to keep them quiet; their father is a drunken brute, who regularly beat them and forced them to watch violent horror films.
We know that there are thousands of other children being raised in broadly similar backgrounds. There are areas of the country where the overriding problem is not material poverty but social, cultural and spiritual disintegration - at the heart of which is the collapse of family life.
Children are being born to lone mothers who were themselves raised in shattered homes by mothers who in turn came from identical backgrounds. The outcome is households in which children are neglected and maltreated, subjected to drug and alcohol abuse, violence and emotional chaos; and where the cruelty and indifference they endure is often translated into the sadistic way they treat others.
Indeed, only last week we learned of another case, in West Yorkshire, where three boys aged 13 and 14 pleaded guilty to stripping, kicking and beating a 13-year-old with wire and bricks.
Of course, only a tiny minority of children grow into attackers or sadists. And many lone parents do a heroic job in raising their children to become responsible adults. But the fact remains that family disintegration sets up chronic disadvantages for a child. Where these are not addressed, a cycle of deprivation is often transmitted down through the generations which replaces civilised behaviour by sheer savagery.
For the past three decades, warnings that the disintegration of the family would result in social catastrophe were brushed aside. What was deemed more important was never to hurt the feelings of those living in fragmented households and to throw welfare benefits at them instead.
Those who objected that this merely fuelled family breakdown were told they were cruel and heartless because depriving such families of welfare benefits would harm the children.
Now in Edlington we can all see the result: four child victims, two of them horrifically attacked and tortured by two others whose very humanity has been taken away from them.
Barnardo's chief Martin Narey says babies should be removed from bad parents
The question now is what to do about a problem that has become a social and cultural emergency. When Iain Duncan Smith's Social Justice Commission refers to 'broken Britain', it is not exaggerating.
Mr Duncan Smith himself suggests various imaginative schemes to repair such families, such as ones where both mother and child are taken into care. But such projects are too expensive and intensive to be applied to all the shattered lives which are growing so exponentially.
The problem has to be tackled at source. That's why the head of Barnardo's, Martin Narey, has now said babies born to such mothers should be removed from them at birth and adopted.
That may sound harsh - but the alternative, in smashed personalities, brutality and sadism, is much harsher. And all the evidence suggests that adopted children generally do very well indeed.
By contrast, the care offered by social services is often worse than useless. Despite the fact that it knew all about the Edlington boys' previous history of sadistic behaviour, Doncaster social services - which itself has a record of gross inadequacy - placed them with a foster couple who not surprisingly were totally unable to control such deeply disturbed children.
Whatever needs to be done to address the weakness in social work, surely what is necessary is not just to try to pick up the pieces of shattered family life but to prevent it from breaking in the first place.
The key is to switch off the motor behind this catastrophe: the prevailing attitudes of a ruling elite which, pretending to be non-judgmental about family background, has actually smashed the traditional family to smithereens.
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Far from alleviating poverty, distress and misery, these self-regarding 'progressives' instead created and perpetuated these ills. Holding that the real crime was not to produce neglected or emotionally disturbed children but to ' stigmatise' those who raised them in such a way, they incentivised family breakdown by handing out welfare benefits with no conditions attached to behaviour.
Through being paid automatically the birth of every child, child benefit has been an effective engine of mass fatherlessness. Other benefits, housing and child care payments offered to lone parents similarly rest on the assumption that the main problem to be addressed is always material poverty.
But this is merely one aspect of these mothers' desperate need, which is rooted overwhelmingly in the fact that they cannot cope with looking after themselves, let alone their children.
The independence afforded by the current benefits set-up is thus often a tragic delusion and cruel trap. Accordingly, a more humane response to unmarried motherhood is to treat it for what it really is - a potential disaster for both mother and baby.
Both should be looked after in motherand-baby units with specialised help. Turning off the benefits spigot would also remove the financial incentives that have made such disasters a commonplace - as indeed was intended by the well-heeled intelligentsia, who set out to make unmarried motherhood 'normal' but whose own income cushioned themselves against the worst of the damage that the removal of such constraints on behaviour inflicted upon the poor.
Hurling accusations of 'heartlessness' against their opponents concealed the fact that these 'progressives' were themselves causing unlimited damage and misery - not to mention a steady supply of jobs for themselves in interventionist programmes to 'rescue' the lives they were so cavalierly continuing to destroy.
It is those people who made morality into a dirty word. Since the essence of morality is feeling for others, and since the essence of psychopathy is the absence of any such feeling, is it any wonder that the result of the doctrines imposed by these 'progressives' has been the creation of psychopathic children?
The Edlington disaster can therefore be laid at their door. The next time they start moaning about flint-hearted 'moralisers' they should be firmly reminded of that fact. The rest of us have a society to rescue before it is all finally too late.