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Children’s Advocate, Diahann Gordon Harrison, is urging the government to ensure that a solid legislative framework and sound policies are in place to hold perpetrators of child abuse accountable for their actions.

“This will, of course, build confidence in the system and it will encourage victims to participate because they know that some justice is there for them,” Mrs. Gordon Harrison stated.

The Children’s Advocate was speaking at a ceremony to launch the ‘Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children – Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Training’ held on May 16 at the Wyndham Kingston hotel.

(Related Story: No let up on efforts to Protect our Children)

Mrs. Gordon Harrison said she is pleased with the proposed amendments to the Evidence Act to allow for the use of video recording evidence and live link in the court system.

She noted that as it now exists, a child who has suffered very serious abuse –  rape, incest or buggery,  has to go through a rigorous process in the justice system, which not only re-traumatises the child, but increases reluctance among parents to subject their children to these kinds of scrutiny and negative exposure.

First, she outlined, “they have to give a statement to the police, then about a year later they have to give evidence before the Resident Magistrate in a preliminary enquiry and then about three years later, they have to go before a judge and seven persons, they have no idea who they are, and they have to go into detail again and give the evidence in that particular format."

“So, if we have video recorded evidence it means that when the child is giving the police the statement right after the incident happens that is recorded, and that becomes the evidence in chief, so that will eliminate some of the trauma that the child is exposed to,” she stated.

The Children’s Advocate said there are other instances where evidence may have to be heard in real time, and this is where live link will help.

“With live link, the child can be in a remote location and be giving the evidence digitally and the accused can still observe, but the child cannot see him. I think that will increase the comfort level within our vulnerable witnesses and so I am very eagerly awaiting the debate of those particular amendments,” she stated.

The Children’s Advocate also cited the need to start naming child predators so that proactive steps can be taken towards preventing further harm to the nation’s children.

This, she said, would send a strong message to would be perpetrators and may even act as a deterrent to those, who have not yet committed the act of child abuse.

Mrs. Gordon Harrison lauded the Women’s Leadership Initiative for staging the workshop, and encouraged all participants to commit to promoting the importance of speaking out against child abuse.

Chairpersons for the group, Marcia Erskine, said the workshop will help to increase awareness of the prevalence, consequences and circumstances of child abuse, and also emphasise that it is wrong.

The statistics reveal that between 2001 and 2011, over 10,000 cases of alleged sexual child abuse have been reported.  Also, for the month of April 2012, preliminary data indicate that over 1,000 reports of sexual abuse against children have been reported.                                                  

By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter