Government's efforts at safeguarding the welfare of the nation's children have been strengthened, with the signing of a $1.2 billion Action Plan with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller announced on June 5.
Making her contribution in the 2012/13 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives, Mrs. Simpson Miller said the Plan, which was signed by the Ministry of Youth and Culture, on behalf of the government, will focus on interventions for child protection and development over the next five years.
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It is expected to, among other things; facilitate strengthening of the Child Development Agency's (CDA) capacity, through the Ministry of Youth and Culture, to respond to the growing number of reports from the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA).
This intervention is timely, in light of what the Prime Minister described as “worrying signs” in how children are currently treated by the society. She informed that some 6,482 children were reported missing between 2009 and April 2012, with 2,126 disappearing last year, alone. This, she pointed out, amounts to an average of almost six per day.
Mrs. Simpson Miller also lamented the fact that in its five-year existence, the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) has received some 25,023 reports of abuse against children, 7,245 of which were sexually related.
She noted that many legislative, institutional and programmatic successes in child protection have been achieved by successive administrations. These, she informed, include: development, implementation and strengthening of institutional arrangements for delivering services to children. Among these, she outlined, were work undertaken by the Office of the Children’s Advocate, Early Childhood Commission, CDA and the OCR.
Legislative interventions which have been undertaken include: promulgation of the Child Care and Protection Act; and the strengthening of the Sexual Offences Act to protect children against sexual abuse and to increase punishment for such abuse, the Prime Minister pointed out. While noting the successes which these and others have yielded in child protection, she stressed that “much more is required."
“If the true character of a nation and its potential for sustainable growth and development are to be judged from the way we treat our children and other vulnerable groups of persons, then we are not looking so good, as a society,” she argued.
Mrs. Simpson Miller assured that the relevant state agencies will “take the strongest possible action when these atrocities occur,” while urging the nation to unite against “those who abuse our little boys and little girls."
By Douglas McIntosh, JIS Reporter