There is a high level of abuse and neglect of children in the society of Jamaica, according to the Child Development Agency (CDA).
From parishes to major cities and urban centres, children are being abused all over the island nation.
The cases range from physical, sexual, emotional, parental neglect, trafficking, child labour, children in need of care and attention and children exhibiting behavioural problems.
Audrey Budhi, the director of children and family programmes at the CDA, who was speaking recently at a seminar, revealed some of the common issues found are learning disorders, enuresis, depression, suicide ideation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among children who have been abused or neglected.
She said that those symptoms are usually linked to several factors such as abuse, post-traumatic stress, developmental delays, fear, anxiety and trauma.
With cases of child abuse rising at an alarming rate, it is no more an issue that can be tackled solely by the government or with the assistance of few support groups. It is a call for the whole nation to unify and act as a committed force to wipe out these sinful practices.
According to Missing Children Statistics Report 2015 (OCR), 1077 reports on child abuse were registered out of which 870 have been recovered, 5 are deceased and 202 are still missing. There are thousands of cases that go unreported.
“Reports that we get we see what we call ‘hot spots’ such as Westmoreland. The whole belt from just near Savana-La- Mar, Negril, going back to Green Island, Hanover is a hot spot. We see right now in Westmoreland alone 500 active cases of reports that are being investigated,” said an official at the CDA during a march to lobby in 2015.
Other hot spots to which the CDA pointed were St Ann; May Pen and hilly areas of Clarendon; Kingston and St Andrew; and St Thomas.
Following are some of the steps to address the issue:
Enforcement of existing laws: Laws such as Child Care and Protection Act, The sexual offences Act, Offences against the person Act are all there but how promptly are they being imposed “when required” is the real question. The government has to be vigorous regarding data collection and monitoring of child abuse offences. We have to optimise the use of existing laws.
Public Education: Masses should be educated on how not to entertain any incident of child abuse around them. They should be reminded that being silent is a crime in itself. Education can be provided in schools, colleges, churches, private and public sectors. Educators should familiarise themselves with signs of abuse in children. Since they are the ones students spend their majority of the time with, they can immediately report such cases.
Eliminate Parental Neglect: Parental neglect can be eliminated by asking parents to monitor their children from an early age and identify signs of sudden change in their behaviour. Often parental neglect is seen due to poor family planning accompanied by a lack of financial resources.
Under the Jamaica’s amended “Domestic Violence Act 2004” single mothers are to be protected and financially maintained and the visiting partner shall provide maintenance to her children, whether or not he is their biological father. More such amendments and budgetary support from the government can eliminate parental neglect.
Advocacy for Child abuse on social and cultural grounds: A lot of cases of sexual abuse are a result of cultural and social factors. An old cultural norm of father’s to take their daughter’s virginity is still prevailing in not only the parishes but major cities as well. In many cases, the perpetrator is someone from within or very close to the family. These cases go unreported due to cultural and social circumstances. Such cases should not be ignored.
Counselling and therapy sessions: The recovered cases need to be backed by counselling and therapy sessions for the victims of child abuse. A child undergoes not only physical but immense emotional trauma in such cases. Voluntary organisations or adding a counselling cell to every existing support group can add a new meaning to their life.