It is Child Month and we will of course be paying a lot of lip service to the importance of children and their development. You know, all those nice things about the children being our future and yaddy yaddy yadda. Things we are not actually doing much to ensure materialise.
This year, we have an apt theme “Children Safety and Security – Our Priority”, but I’m beginning to wonder if we are truly invested and committed to the welfare of our children. Stop for a second and think about all the gruesome stories of children being raped, molested and/or murdered over the last month. Now ask yourself what future.
What future will our children have when we keep damaging them in so many ways? We are physically violent towards them, we abuse them emotionally and psychologically, we deny them basic rights, and the list goes on.
We have a plethora of ministries, agencies and organisations that deal with children and youth issues including, but not limited to, the Ministry of Youth & Culture, Child Development Agency (CDA), Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR), Office of Children’s Advocate (OCA) and Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), yet we are thus far unable to substantially curb the maltreatment of the most vulnerable in our society. We obviously need to revisit the roles, functions and ability of these entities to protect and seek justice for our children and youth.
A knowledge, attitude, practices and behaviour (KAPB) study (2014) regarding child maltreatment commissioned by the OCR and UNICEF found that “eighty two percent (82%) of the children sample[d] reported that they have experienced at least one incident of child maltreatment in the past three months.” This accounted for, among other things, physical and emotional (including being shouted at and name-calling) abuse by adults. Additionally, 46% of the five hundred (500) children studied indicated that they had experienced or witnessed physical abuse in the past 3 months. These are alarming figures. It is clear that the nation’s children are in trouble.
The Jamaica Observer reported in January of this year that “In an opening statement to the committee [United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland], Hanna said that the Government of Jamaica has “intensified strides in advancing the rights of the child to access to education, protection against violence and ensuring that those who come in conflict with the law are given equal rights and justice consistent with the provision of the UN convention on the Rights of the Child”.” Have we really Minister Hanna? In light of the continued violence against our children can we really stand by this
barefaced lie statement? What exactly have we done to protect them against the many different forms of abuse and violence at the hands of parents and other relatives, teachers, the state, religious leaders and other adults? I have not seen the fruits of that labour to be frank.
What are our leaders actually doing? Organising marches. Yes, you read that right. On Saturday Angela Brown-Burke, Senator and Mayor of the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) organised a march in which scores of our leaders and the general public took a stance against child abuse, in light of the recent flare up of violence against children. Marches are great – they raise awareness and demonstrate the need for collective effort and action – however, the mandate of our leaders does not include parading their helplessness as if they do not have a sworn duty to protect children and the general population. Our leaders, both elected and appointed officials, should do their jobs of making and enforcing laws and policies and leave citizens to organise marches and pray for divine intervention.
Additionally, let us not pretend that all blame is on our leaders. As a people we have a hand to play in this malady. We are collectively failing our children. How many of us call the relevant authorities when we see a child in danger? Whether from severe beating at the hands of their parents/guardians, when we know they are being violated, sexually and otherwise, by family members, on becoming aware of adults taking advantage of their vulnerabilities etc. We have all become so detached from our collective responsibility that we turn a blind eye when we should be acting.
This child month, and moving forward, let us do more than say pretty things and actually make a commitment to improving the lives of our children in whatever way we can. That may range from simply hugging a child to reporting maltreatment of children and a host of other meaningful things in between. Must we wait for another child to be violated, damaged or killed to act? We can and must do better for our little ones.