Laws To Protect Children Must Be Passed Now
The names are all that changes. Lisa Steinberg Elisa Izquerdo Elijaha Santana and David Maldonado Jr.
The list of children done to death at the hands of the parents and guardians into whose care they were entrusted by an ancient act of biology, marriage or the foster care system goes on and on. Even as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined plans for revamping the city Administration for Children’s Services after the news of Nixzmary Brown’s abuse and murder at the hands of her mother and stepfather, a five-monthold infant almost joined the ranks of the tortured and murdered when her mother tried to drown her in a bathtub last Wednesday morning. At almost the same hour as the baby was being resuscitated by a relative, David Maldonado Sr., 32, and Luz Arroyo, 26, pleaded guilty in Westchester County Court in the deaths of their son, David Maldonado Jr., 1, and his half brother, Elijaha Santana, 2, who died July 29 of hyperthermia and scalding burns when they became trapped in a bathroom with hot water running while their drug-addicted parents got high.
Children don’t need to be abused or neglected at home to be in danger. They can all too easily become the prey of the likes of a sexual predator who moved across the street from a New Jersey family and lured their seven-year-old daughter, Megan Kanka, to her death. Despite the namesake Megan’s Law, versions of which were enacted across the country in the wake of the child’s rape and murder, sexual predators still prey on their victims. In Ohio, no less than 23—that is not a misprint; we’ll spell it out: twenty-three—registered sex offenders considered to rank at varying levels of the danger they present to society were released from prison to live in a halfway house within blocks of schools, churches and the homes of families with young children. In June 2002 Elizabeth Smart, a Utah 15-year-old, was abducted from her bedroom at knifepoint by a homeless drifter while her younger sister slept and forced to travel with him and an older woman for nine months until she was recovered in Salt Lake City and restored to her family. Her case was an exception—most children so abducted are never again seen alive.
While Bloomberg announced the changes in practices and procedures at ACS, which include assigning former police officers to ACS cases, the state legislature, at the urging of Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn and state Senator Serphin Maltese, introduced a package of legislation designed to maintain and strengthen the New York version of Megan’s Law. State Senator George Onorato added his voice in support of Governor George Pataki’s plan to commit some convicted sexual offenders to mental hospitals after they serve prison terms. “Nixzmary’s Law” has also been proposed; this legislation would mandate a sentence of life without parole for parents or guardians who cause the death of a child under 14 years of age.
There are signs that hope for a better tomorrow may not be entirely misplaced. A15-year-old girl abandoned the child she bore in secret at a firehouse under her state’s Safe Haven laws, instead of dumping the infant in a trashcan or leaving it in a toilet stall. Some parents avail themselves of the New York Foundling Hospital’s Crisis Nursery where children can stay in safety and comfort until the frustration and rage that drove a parent nearly to the breaking point ameliorates.
With the advent of the changes in place for ACS, we trust that there will be fewer cases of children tortured and murdered and when the Mayersohn-Maltese legislation and Nixzmary’s Law are passed, as surely they must be, that there will be more cases of predators and murderous parents and guardians being held to account for their crimes. We applaud these laws and the concern for the children of New York City that sparked them. Given the dismal record of the past 20 years— and the years that stretch back into New York City’s and humanity’s past--we hope these laws will mark the dawn of a new era for our children. Sadly, many of the Nixzmary Browns and Lisa Steinbergs of New York City will continue to suffer, and in some cases, to die, in secret. But at the very least we can make opportunities available to young women to give up babies they cannot care for and to parents and guardians to realize that a penalty exists for killing children. We include the fiends who prey on children in this list. Tougher penalties and civil commitment may not deter some of the predators, but if they are caught and severely punished the message may come across: they do not have a right to steal our children and use them for whatever vile purposes their inner demons suggest. Our children are our most precious resource. We must take whatever steps are necessary to protect them, from even their nearest and dearest, if need be.