The Child Development Agency (CDA) is taking its message of personal responsibility for child care and protection across the island.
The agency launched the first of its public meetings and exhibitions on July 3 at the Trench Town Multi-Purpose Centre in South St. Andrew under the theme: ‘Every Child is My Child’.
Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna, who was the guest speaker, told residents that each year, there are increased reports of child abuse, with reports of sexual abuse up 70 per cent last year. “It is a problem because what we are realising is that in Jamaica, as much as we say we love our children, the fact is that we have a culture of child abuse and a culture of child violence,” she stated.
She said the problem can be fixed but it means that everyone will have to do their part, and called for volunteers to work with the CDA. “We need more persons to crusade for children. If you see something happening, call us. Tell us. As a Minister, yes I am there to help policy, but as a mother I am there to fight for children.
“I want you to hold me accountable. We cannot do it overnight, but I can’t do it by myself,” the Minster said.
She stated that the Government is “wide awake” to the issue and issued a warning to abusers, especially those in children’s homes. “From our part, any worker in the children’s homes, who are abusing children, will be sent home. Anybody, who is abusing children, we will hunt them down, we will find them and we will punish them,” she said.
She also cautioned adults to be careful of the type of messages that they send to children. “The messages we tell our children, whether negative or positive, the lyrics in our music, whether gun violence or sexual explicit, the kinds of visuals that they see on television, seep into their subconscious and you find that they start acting out in ways that after a while you won’t be able to control, if they are always fed a diet of a particular type,” she pointed out.
She also made a special appeal for mothers to dress their children appropriately and “teach your young men to wear their pants where their bottoms don’t show. These things might look simple but they are not,” she told them.
Chief Executive Officer of the CDA, Carla Francis-Edie, stated that the agency wanted to send a strong message that each person must take personal responsibility to care for and protect the nation’s children.
“Each of us must see it as our duty to protect, love and care for the children in our neighbourhood whether or not we are related to them. This is even more critical because over the last five years, the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR) has received over 25,000 reports of child abuse, abandonment and neglect,” she informed.
Mrs. Francis-Edie told residents that they can help family members, friends and neighbours by watching out for their children to ensure that no one abuses them. She also encouraged persons to become foster parents, noting that there are over 2,000 children in state care, who need a home.
The evening’s programme saw strong cultural performances, including a poem in honour of ‘Jamaica 50’ by Kino Burrell of Trench Town Primary.
There were also displays from the OCR, the Child Labour Unit of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Office of the Children’s Advocate, CDA, and the Centre for the Investigation for Sexual Offence and Child Abuse (CISOCA).
The CDA is an executive agency under the Ministry of Youth and Culture, which is responsible for providing advocacy to protect children from abuse and other social ills; providing quality care for children in the care of the state, and advising the Government on policy and legal issues relating to children.
Other meetings will be held in Manchester, St. James, St. Catherine, Westmoreland, and Kingston and St. Andrew.
By Andrea Braham