Where are the aunts, uncles or neighbours when children are neglected or cast aside? Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Marceline Spandiel's story should make you angry, but more importantly, it should make you take a closer look at your own family and community.

Imagine being 11 years old and knowing that nobody wants you. Your mother is a drug addict and your father lives on the streets. You have spent the last few years struggling for a sense of belonging. You disappear from "home" to be with your father because at the very least there is a biological connection. He may not have a job and a home but maybe he is the only one who makes you feel like you "belong".

When we heard about an 11-year-old girl who had gone missing in Cape Town our first instinct was to get the story out so that at least there was a chance that Marceline Spandiel's story would not end in the same tragic way as so many other missing children stories. Marceline was found two weeks after she went missing, but what really bothers me about her story is why she disappeared.

Like so many other children on the Cape Flats, and in fact all over South Africa, Marceline and her twin brother cannot rely on their parents to feed, clothe and care for them. This raises the question of who should take responsibility for Marceline and the rest of South Africa's "throwaway children".

Marceline and her twin brother were placed in the care of social services when their grandmother could no longer cope with their wayward behaviour. They proceeded to run away from the children's home where they were placed FOUR times. This, to me at least, is a sign that the siblings were deeply unhappy. It should, in my opinion, have been a red flag to the social workers and caregivers who were supposed to be watching over them.

I am raising a seven-year-old girl, let's call her M, who could very easily have become one of the "throwaway children". Not because her parents don't love her, but because their drug addiction simply rendered them incapable of caring for her or any of their other children. Despite being a single parent taking care of my own parents, I elected to become M's foster mother because she is related to me, and because every child deserves a chance at a decent life. 

Four years on, she is flourishing, and our family cannot imagine our lives without her. It wasn't easy to integrate another woman's child into my family. My own children didn't quite understand that this would be a lifetime commitment for me and that there is a new "baby" in the house. M's grandfather still thinks her parents will get their act together and care for M and her siblings. I believe they are too far gone to ever be functional parents.

And herein lies the rub. We cannot abdicate our duty as parents and extended family to government and social workers. If there's a problem in your home, you fix it. If there's a problem in the extended family, we usually come together and brainstorm a solution. As a community, we get together to "fix" problems plaguing us.

Speaking at a Cape Times breakfast function earlier today one of the Western Cape's top cops, Major General Jeremy Vearey, spoke about the loss of the sense of community we felt growing up in the '80s when neighbours took care of each other's children.  Our mothers could go to work and know that someone is keeping an eye on their "latch-key" kids. 

The neighbourhood shopkeeper would refuse to sell cigarettes to the rebellious 13-year-old boy we all knew was smoking more than just tobacco. Young girls were safe because the twitch of curtains as they walked down the road would be accompanied by calls of "I'm going to tell your mother what you're getting up to while she's working her behind off for you kids". It didn't matter whose child you were, if you were in trouble, or up to no good, the closest adult would become your de facto parent. They would dispense TLC or punishment without fear or favour.

How then did we end up with so many children who have nobody to look after them? Where are the aunts, uncles or neighbours when these children are neglected or cast aside? Who will step up to fill the parents' shoes and who is responsible when the next "Marceline" is not found safe and sound?

IOL