The Global Campaign for Men and Boys
The father of 4 year old boy who was starved to death by his mother has told the BBC that his son is dead because “nobody listens to the male in this country”. Glen Poole from equality4men asks if sexism against men and boys was to blame for Hamzah Khan’s death.
“Nobody listens to the male in this country , nobody, there’ll be loads of fathers like me, all over, but nobody listens to us, nobody listens to the father and look what’s happened, I’ve got a dead son, I’ve got to live with this for the rest of my life…..who am I? Nothing! I can’t sleep no more, I can’t think no more, it’s driving me crazy.”
These are the words of Aftab Khan, father of four-year old Hamzah Khan who was starved to death in Bradford, England, by his mother Amanda Hutton.
It’s difficult to imagine how this can happen in Britain today. The emaciated body of Hamzah Khan rotted and mummified in his cot while his mum, Amanda Hutton, continued for nearly two years to raise five other children (who were aged five to 13 when the body was finally discovered).
Hutton also had two young adult sons and she threatened the eldest, Tariq, now 24, that she would kill her five other young children if he told anyone what had happened.
The only serious intervention that the authorities seem to have made is to charge the children’s father with domestic violence and prevent him from being in his children’s lives.
The court heard how Aftab Khan begged police to check on his son in 2008, the year before he died. The boy’s father had been arrested for assaulting Amanda Hutton and in his police interview—which was played to the jury—he was heard repeatedly telling the police cops how badly their son Hamzah Khan had been neglected.
The boy’s father told police officers: “You’ve got to keep an eye on that woman. All I want you to do is get a doctor to check Hamzah, check how undernourished he is, check how neglected he is, see how he is.’
According to Hamzah’s father, the mother was an overpowering alcoholic who would not let the father take his son to the doctor. Jurors heard that he told the police: “When it all comes out I’ll come back and see you and say I told you so… you guys are not listening.”
When incomprehensible tragedies like the death of this young boy happen, our natural tendency is to want to blame and demonize people, despite the fact that blaming and demonizing doesn’t seem to prevent such tragedies from happening again.
A more resourceful question to ask is who is responsible here and ultimately every individual is responsible for their own actions. The father is responsible for assaulting the mother, the individual police officers are responsible for failing to respond effectively to a report that the boy was at risk and the mother is responsible for starving the boy to death.
In addition to these individual responsibilities, it’s also helpful to consider the cultural and systemic barriers that contributed to a four-year old boy being starved to death by his mum.
Only a detailed investigation could do this task justice and bearing in mind the limitations of a short blog post, I’d like to offer some broad generalisations that may help us try and make of sense of how institutional and cultural sexism can play in hand in cases like these.
Firstly the general view of gender is that women HAVE problems and men ARE problems. When we add to this fact that women are given automatic rights to be the primary carer of their children and men are not, then we have a system that treats mothers and fathers very differently and unequally.
When it comes to domestic violence, the conventional view is that men are perpetrators and women are victims. The bulk of the system approaches this issue as “violence against women” and takes a feminist approach that links the problem of domestic violence to the power and privilege that men are said to be given by the patriarchy.
When we look at family separation, the systemic and cultural assumption is that mum, who has already been defined as the primary carer, has custody of the children. In general the father becomes the secondary parent or is made (or makes himself) disposable.
Hamzah Khan’s parents entered the system as a family experiencing domestic violence. It would have been assumed that his father was the perpetrator who WAS the problem and the mother was the victim who HAD the problem. The cultural norm of the domestic violence sector is to believe women and, by default, to disbelieve what men say.
What the individuals within such a system may be incapable of doing is assessing different levels of believability. For example, to believe a woman that she was assaulted and at the same to believe the man when he says the woman he assaulted is not simply a victim but also a serious risk to others (in this case their son).
Aftab Khan is 100% responsible for assaulting Amanda Hutton and the way that the system responded to his concerns for his son demonstrate that he was not an individual with power and privilege, he was a man who needed help to protect his son— as well as being held to account for his violent actions. Aftab Khan needed someone to believe him in order that he and his son could get the help they both needed—and in this regard our collective willingness to demonize and disbelieve men may have contributed to a four year old boy being starved to death by his mother.
It may be, that with the right help, that Hamzah’s mum and dad could have become good enough parents, but the nature of our current system is that all too often only men’s ability to parent is assessed. Our sexist cultural assumption is that all mothers are fit parents until proven otherwise and all fathers are unfit parents until someone else—either the mother or the state—grants them permission to be a parent
This cultural sexism is locked in place by the law of parental responsibility which grants parental rights automatically to all mothers. Mothers are then given the power to effectively grant fathers parental rights by either marrying them or allowing them to sign the birth certificate. In cases where mums don’t grant fathers this right—including in cases where mums die in childbirth—a father has to apply to court to ask the state if he can become his children’s legal father.
Against this unequal backdrop, it is far simpler legally to remove a father from his children’s lives than to remove the mother. It may be that it was the right decision for the system to remove Aftab Khan from his family, but Aftab Khan didn’t kill his son. The parent who did kill Aftab Khan’s son was automatically deemed to be a fit parent by the state (until proven otherwise) because she was a woman.
As Aftab Khan said: “There’ll be loads of fathers like me, all over, but nobody listens to us, nobody listens to the father.”
In hindsight it could be that both parents should have been removed from their children’s lives sooner—it could be that with the right type of help and support, one or both of the parents could have become good enough parents—and the fact remains that four-year Hamzah Khan’s did not get the intervention and support they needed.
It’s clear that simply demonizing and disposing of Aftab Khan as a problem-causing perpetrator didn’t help his son—and demonizing Amanda Hutton as an evil, wicked mother won’t help us either.
Abusive mothers aren’t evil, they are normal, they occur in normality on a daily basis and Amanda Hutton’s behaviour is at the most extreme end of the spectrum of everyday abuse that women perpetrate. Research by the NSPCC has found, for example, that mothers are responsible for 49% of violence against children (compared with 40% for fathers).
It’s important to acknowledge that the majority of parents do not abuse their children and it’s equally important for us to say that there are both mothers and fathers who pose a risk to their children. Sexist assumptions about men and women, mums and dads, victims and perpetrators makes it harder for us to hear the legitimate concerns of men like Aftab Khan. It also makes it harder for us to hold abusive and violent women to account for their actions.
Amanda Hutton has now been held responsible for her actions but it is too little, too late for the son she starved to death and left unburied for nearly two years. Our current system tends to demonize men and let women off the hook and neither approach seems to be helping.
Perhaps the best way forward is to stop demonizing men and to stop letting women off the hook and to start holding men AND women responsible for their actions instead. A compassionate and effective system is one that can hold people to account for their actions and—at the same time—give them the help they need.
Amanda Hutton was neither held to account, nor given the help she needed. Aftab Khan was held to account for domestic violence, but he wasn’t helped to protect his son—as a result a four-year boy was starved to death by his mum.
Sexism didn’t kill Hamzah Khan, Amanda Hutton did that, but it seems likely that our sexist assumptions about mums and dads was a contributory factor and if we can learn one lesson from this tragedy it’s that we need to start listening to men and boys—and that includes men and boys like Aftab Khan and his sons. See this link to watch Aftab Khan’s interview with the BBC now.
If you want to learn more about sexism against men and the inequalities that men and boys in the UK face today you can reserve your copy of the new equality4men book by Glen Poole here today.
If you want to help us address the problems dads face then why not join our equality4dads campaign here today?
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