Last night, Lisa and I watched a recent episode of Lost, the ABC drama that portrays the current and past lives of airline crash survivors who are stranded on a puzzling island inhabited by the mysterious cult-like ‘others.’
One of the storylines concerned Jack, a surgeon who, through his selflessness, strong character and decision-making skills, emerged as the de-facto leader of the rag-tag ensemble of castaways.
A flashback told the tale of Jack meeting a strange and secretive woman in Thailand who had a ‘gift’ of looking into a person’s soul, seeing them for what they really are, and subsequently ‘marking’ them with a tattoo to display their true identity to the world. Jack, upon discovering her talent, emphatically asked to be marked with what she revealed about him. She refused him, saying it was strictly forbidden because he was an outsider. After he persisted, she reluctantly obliged and told him, "There will be consequences."
In current time, a parallel story unfurls. Juliet, one of the others, faces execution for killing another member of the clan, even though it was done to prevent the murder of one of the castaways. Jack, now imprisoned by the others, steps in to make a deal with their leader, Ben, offering to temporarily give up his promise of freedom, and provide post-surgery care for Ben, in exchange for Juliet’s life. Juliet is spared, but is branded with a mark on her lower back that stigmatizes her amongst her society.
Jack had willingly asked to be marked; Juliet had to suffer it as a punishment. Jack’s mark served to reveal his nature and shortcomings or struggles therein. Juliet’s mark represented a sentence and perception imposed upon her.
In the developing world today, many children are marked and branded as a result of their circumstances and subsequent choices. Others are stigmatized through the misperceptions and actions of others.
In countries like Honduras and Guatemala, like many others around the world, orphaned and abandoned children on the streets are labeled as vermin and pests. They beg and sell their bodies. Some ‘escape’ by inhaling solvents. For others, exit comes in the form of execution at the hands of police, authorities and hit men hired by businessmen for as little as $10.
In Honduras alone, hundreds and hundreds of children have been murdered recently because of a ‘social cleansing’ that is widely accepted in many circles of society there. It is done in the name of safety, investment and tourism. Street children are treated as a blight in need of eradication, instead as tormented lives in need of rescue and restoration.
Those that are not killed are relentlessly chased, beaten and abused. Many girls are coerced into sexual acts and molested or raped by police and other governmental figures. As a result, children band together for protection and survival. They join gangs. They fight the establishment. They fight death.
The gang life initially gives them a better sense of hope and identity, but it eventually entraps them and robs them of optimism and character. They willingly take the mark of tattoos to align themselves with their new ‘families.’ As a consequence, they are further branded as disease-ridden vagrants and troublemakers.
These desperate children are often thrashed and tortured by police simply because they have gang symbols inked into their skin. These same individuals who have sworn to "serve and protect," are now picking up, violating and slaughtering children from the streets just because they have these tattoos. The net result is that every street child with a tattoo is labeled as a criminal in need of punishment and purging.
A little further south, in the country of Peru, street children are often referred to as "Piranhas" by the police. When apprehended or arrested for crimes (that are most often related to mere survival), these children as marked as such, with a small tattoo of a fish forcibly inscribed onto the back of their hands. With the new mark intact they, even more than ever, are submerged into lives of crime and prostitution in order to get food, clothes or a place to sleep. The symbol holds them down and serves to reinforce this reality.
Whether it is by choice or by force, these children are now marked with a stigma that further constructs futures of gloom and early death.
The translation of the mark that Jack received from the mystifying woman in Thailand?
"He wanders among us, but is not one of us."
…So true is the societal perception of over 150 million children living on the streets of the developing world today.
(Image: Street child being apprehended in Haiti)