Thursday, March 6, 2014

To Catch (and Punish) A Thief

I saw a thief get caught yesterday, right outside our house. Thursdays I don't have any classes up at SAC, so I stay home with the kids and do work around the house, and sometimes a little relaxing. Yesterday I was having coffee and checking email when I heard a commotion out back. Men were crashing through the woods and yelling in Lamnso. I saw through the window that I recognized the men, the day guard and the plumber, and they were chasing someone around the fields. I presumed it was a thief, and it turned out I was correct. They caught him and brought him back to a spot twenty yards behind our house where he had dropped his load of two potato sacks filled with tin cans. He was a boy of about 11 or 12. 

The boy was obviously poor. His pants were ill-fitting. I'm not even sure if he had shoes, and the shirt and pullover he was wearing appeared to be stolen, as they were SAC uniform clothes. I watched as the day guard cut a switch from a nearby tree and thrashed the boy while the plumber held him. Beating criminals is common, and sometimes the only justice that can be done. Whether or not it should happen is another question entirely. Being from a relatively corporal-punishment-free culture, witnessing the young boy beaten for a petty crime was disturbing. Watching it from my own home added to the discomfort.

Getting beaten in the dusty farm didn't appear to be pleasant, so I brought the boy some water, and got the story from those who caught him. He was caught taking things from the garbage pits when he started to run. When he ran, the men chased him, and that's where we started the story.

All day I thought of the young boy, stealing garbage and clothes, and getting beaten for it.
Cameroon is nothing if not surprising, and the next day I got the rest of the story from the day guard. After they led the boy away, they gave him water to wash up, a different shirt to replace the clothes he stole, and a meal. Then, they took the boy home to his father, who informed them that the boy had been not going to school and was instead stealing things, supposedly even stealing money from his own mother. They made sure the boy was going back to school and are planning to check up on the boy periodically to be sure he is still on the right track.

So, now in addition to the sad, disturbed, sympathetic feelings I have for the young thief because of his thrashing, and my discomfort with the brutal corporal punishment, I have feelings of admiration and pride for SAC staff, as they are trying to do what is best for the boy and best for society. This is the kind of world we live in, a mixed bag of good, bad, and confusing. It is nothing if not fodder for reflection.