Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, says he is encouraged by recent data, which suggest that the culture of silence that often prevents persons from reporting cases of child abuse is changing.
The Minister noted that statistics from the Office of the Children’s Registry show that incidents of reporting have increased, suggesting that the “see and blind” culture, which previously pervaded the Jamaican psyche, is slowly shifting.
Mr. Golding was speaking on Friday (May 11), at a Child Abuse workshop, held at the Altamont Court Hotel in New Kingston. The workshop, entitled ‘Focusing on the Sexual Abuse of Children’, was organised by the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the Office of the Children’s Advocate, and supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The Minister urged Jamaicans to do their individual part in ensuring that this change is accelerated in an effort to protect the hundreds of children who are abused each year.
The two-day workshop, which will run from May 11 to 12, is being attended by medical professionals, police officers, social workers, lawyers, and other persons involved in child care.
Senator Golding revealed that in 2007, approximately 460 cases of sexual abuse were reported to the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR). This increased significantly to more than 4,000 in 2008 and more than 6,000 in 2009.
“I suspect that the increase in cases coming to the OCR may have more to do with people accepting their civic responsibility to report, and knowing how to make a report, than the actual cases of sexual abuse showing a dramatic increase,” he argued.
Mr. Golding noted that the statistics suggest that “the see and blind culture” is changing. He emphasised that the prevalence of child abuse in Jamaica was “totally unacceptable and we need to accelerate the process of culture change by appropriate and sustained public education and other measures, such as seminars.”
“We don’t speak about it enough. There is too much denial of sexual abuse in our society, too much turning of a blind eye. Even when the facts are clear, there are too many who seek to excuse or ignore it and that behaviour must be denounced,” the Minister added.
He commended those persons “who see and suspect” child sexual abuse and are brave enough, and caring enough, to report the incident to the Office of the Children’s Registry, or any relevant agency, so that decisive action can be taken.
The Minister said the workshop was therefore quite timely, and extremely worthwhile, as it would seek to further increase awareness among Jamaicans of their responsibilities in the protection of the nation’s children.
Chief Justice, Hon. Zaila McCalla, for her part, commended the Ministry of Justice for spearheading the workshop, noting that it was very timely, especially in light of the recent reports of child abuse in the media.
She noted that the objective of the workshop is to increase the level of awareness among prescribed groups on issues relating to sexual abuse against children, reporting mechanisms for such cases, or even allegations, of abuse and the existing legislation, with respect to prescribed persons not reporting cases where a child is neglected, sexually mistreated or otherwise.
The Chief Justice pointed out that international conventions and best practices require that countries promote the establishment of laws, procedures and institutions that respect the rights of children that interact with the justice system in any capacity.
“We must all work together to attain the objectives. We must work to have our courts designed to accommodate children and provide appropriate facilities in accordance with the requirements for child rights to be observed,” she stated.
The Chief Justice further noted that, “we must strive to ensure that professionals who interact with children on a regular basis are aware of their legal and professional responsibilities towards children."
The UNICEF Representative in Jamaica, Robert Fuderich, said it is a good sign that “more and more” Jamaicans are speaking out about child abuse.
“Silence is violence and it is unacceptable for anyone that knows of such violence to not report suspected cases of child abuse. It’s incumbent for all of us in society to address this cruelest form of violence towards our children,” he said.
He told the professionals gathered at the workshop that it is against the law for them not to speak out when they become aware of child abuse. “By remaining silent, not only do you reinforce this cruel act, but you’re breaking the very law that’s meant to protect our children,” he stated.
Data from the Victim Support Unit revealed that approximately 31 per cent of victims who received counselling between 2002 and 2010 were cases of sexual abuse, ranging from rape to indecent assault.
Statistics also show that since the Office of the Children’s Registry was established in 2007, a total of 25,023 cases have been reported. The cases include physical, emotional and sexual abuse; neglect; child trafficking; children exhibiting anti-social behavourial patterns; and those in need of care.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter