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I am grateful for the honour of being invited to speak at today’s opening session of the Caribbean Child Research Conference 2008, here this morning.
I have always been associated with the plight of our children and issues associated with them, in addition to being a mother.
This has resulted in the lines between my ministry, which deals with youth, and the Ministry of Health, which has responsibility for children, being blurred sometimes.
I suppose that is one of the reasons why I was asked to be the keynote speaker here this morning.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the welfare of our children is not a job only for the Minister of Health, or even for the Minister of Youth, or the Minister of Education. It is a job for all of us.
We all need to start again to demonstrate in practical ways that if it “takes a village to raise a child,” it also takes a village to keep a child safe.
It is a job for all of us. The children are our future, and all of us have a role to play in ensuring that they are able to take up their responsibilities as adults without the many threats that face them, today.
As your theme points out, our mission is to build a region that is fit for our children.
Successive Jamaican government has consistently expressed concerns about the treatment of our children, and the fact that the society seems to be losing the desire to protect them from the evils which threaten their childhood.
In response, in 2004, our Parliament passed the Child Care and Protection Act, and in 2006, the first Children’s Advocate, in the person of Miss Mary Clarke, was appointed.
The Main functions of her office being:
a. Reviewing laws, policies, practices and government services affecting children
b. Providing legal services and related assistance to children
c. Responding to requests made through the island’s Courts for representation on behalf of children affected by or involved in legal proceedings
d. Investigating and hearing complaints against government authorities and providing reasoned decisions and recommendations for action
e. Implementing regular child participation, stakeholder consultation and public education programmes
f. Providing advice on the interpretation of the Child Care and Protection Act
g. Publishing reports and issuing best practice guidelines regarding any matter concerning the rights or best interests of children
Since then we have also established the Children’s Registry. The Office of the Children’s Registry has been in existence since January 1, 2007, to receive, record, and store data on the maltreatment of Jamaica’s children.
The Registry receives, assesses, and refers reports of child abuse to different organizations.
It receives information from persons who are required to make a report because they suspect that a child has been or is likely to be abandoned, neglected, physically or sexually abused, ill-treated, or is otherwise in need of care and protection.
Anyone who suspects or knows that a child is being abused must make a report to the Registry and victims can also make reports.
The Child Care and Protection Act, makes it the duty of every adult, to report every incident or suspicion that a child has been, is being, or is likely to be ill-treated, abused, abandoned, neglected, or is in need of care and protection.
In 2007, there were 418 reports, and between January and June this year, there were approximately 1500.
I hope research will indicate that more persons are becoming aware of the existence of the registry and feel the need to report suspected cases.
These reports are about neglect, physical abuse, lack of care and protection, with the victims being mainly boys and sexual abuse, affecting mainly girls.
In May, 2008, when we celebrated Child Month, some 200 children below age 10 were treated at the Bustamante Hospital For Children in Kingston for accident-related injuries and physical abuse. In addition, 12 children were murdered, casualties of gang violence. In 2006, of the 1,340 persons murdered, a total of 175 were children (149 boys and 26 girls), up from 91 in 2005.
In 2006: Over 1,700 children were victims of major crimes including murder, rape, robbery and break-ins.
Of 1,509 patients referred to health facilities due to sexual assaults in 2006, 78% were children and adolescents (6% boys, 94% girls) aged 0-19 years.
The records show that corporal punishment continues to be the dominant form of discipline in homes and schools.
A 2005 survey revealed that only 11% of parents resorted to positive forms of discipline.
Violence in Jamaica is very costly both in terms of the cost per annum and the effect on our ability to develop.
Violence costs the country 3.7% of GDP every year, according to the UWI. This amounts to about $4Billion lost in productivity due to violence, each year.
Without violence, our GDP could accrue by an additional 25% every year (this is according to the World Bank).
Every year, violence costs the Ministry of Health $ 2.2 Billion. This is approximately 40% of the recurrent hospital budget of the Ministry of Health.
And we all know, ladies and gentlemen, that children and women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence.
This has been of serious concern to the government and that is why Government’s most recent action involved the move by Prime Minister Golding in setting up an emergency task force two weeks ago to review the situation, and report back to him with recommendations to be implemented urgently.
I was a part of those discussions at Jamaica House, with Prime Minister Golding and Health Minister, Ruddy Spencer.
Representatives of the task force were drawn from several Government Ministries and agencies, the Cabinet Office and the Opposition. They presented a number of short, medium and long-term strategies, to better protect the country’s children.
The immediate strategies we wish to implement will include the establishment of a three-digit emergency number where children in crisis can call and report cases of abuse. Cable and cellular providers are being asked to work in association with the Constabulary Communication Network (CCN), to display photographs and carry information on missing children.
In fact, several cable stations have committed already to support a public education programme which will be spearheaded by the JIS to assist in the campaign to protect the nation’s children.
The Ministry of National Security has also been instructed to strengthen the capacity of its Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, (CISOCA).
The Prime Minister has instructed the Child Development Agency (CDA) to provide each agency with a breakdown of the specific recommendations as they relate to the individual agencies, so that a plan of action can be developed for implementation.
Another meeting of these agencies is to be convened within a week, at which time the Prime Minister will be provided with the agencies’ plans of action to deal with the issues of child abuse and protection of children.
A Sexual Offences Bill is to be brought to Cabinet within the next two weeks and a National Advisory Council to administer the provisions of the Child Care and Protection Act is also to be brought to Cabinet within the next two weeks also.
These actions ladies and gentlemen, have been taken because of Government’s deep concern over the violence to which so many children have become victims.
I therefore look forward to this conference providing us with more suggestions and solutions derived from your research and deliberations.
However, no matter what we do as Government, and at conferences such as these, the society itself has to play the larger role.
I therefore want to make a fresh appeal to members of the society to please get involved and become proactive in the fight to protect our children. Take up your phones and call the Office of the Children’s Advocate or the Child Development Agency or the police and report your suspicions. It is better to report and be wrong about your suspicion than not to report and then hear that the child is maimed or killed. I beg of you, let’s become all our children’s keepers.
In this, I call on groups such as the National Parent Teachers Association, the service clubs, various care providers, everyone who has a heart and a part in raising our children.
And in this appeal, I want to single out the operators of public transportation who continue to have lewd, loud and outrageous music blasting in their buses and taxis. I am saying to them do not wait for the authorities to force them to comply with the law. Do it voluntarily for the sake of your own children and for Jamaica’s future.
But ladies and gentlemen, do you realize that this is not a Jamaican or Caribbean phenomenon. It is worldwide. We see similar happenings in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, and right here in the Caribbean, where criminal gangsters are recruiting children as gunmen and demanding sex from under-aged girls. This must stop.
We see pictures of young boys being trained as armed insurgents in many of the civil wars taking place around the world, being trained to kill.
Just last Sunday one of our daily newspapers reported an Assistant Commissioner of Police recruited from England, suggesting that delinquent teenagers should be tried as adults, because of the level on which they are being recruited by criminal gangs to commit crimes. This is so unfortunate.
Police statistics show that in 2006 youngsters aged 12-20 committed 146 acts of murder, 163 shootings and 202 robberies.
So what we are experiencing is both a dramatic increase in the level of violence against our children, as well as, an equally dramatic increase in the level of violence being perpetrated by our children. Children are preys and predators at the same time. We can’t allow this to continue.
It has become such a burning issue for all of us not just in Jamaica, but in the Caribbean, that we need to approach it more seriously on a regional level. We must have a joined up approach to finding solutions to these over bearing challenges.
As Minister of Information, Youth and Gender, I stand ready to assist in facilitating the dialogue that will lead to tangible positive and measurable outcomes in the interest of our children.
I welcome to the shores of Jamaica, the researchers attending the conference from the Caribbean, Europe and the United States and trust that all will benefit from your presentations and deliberations.
It’s great to see the over 200 children representing from all over Jamaica here. All of you, stand and wave. Of course, a special welcome to the children who will be presenting their research tomorrow morning. We look forward especially to hearing from you.
In this age of technology our young people have access to world information and I would say most young people use this access to information in a positive way.
I commend the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies(SALISES), the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the Child Development Agency, The Office of the Children’s Advocate, the Early Childhood Commission, the Caribbean Child Development Centre, the Jamaica Coalition on the Rights of the Child, the Ministry of Education and all who worked towards making this conference a meaningful one.
I wish you every success in your deliberations. I look forward to the reports derived from this conference and encourage further research on children issues that will inform and impact on more intervention programmes to protect and assist our children and to ensure that we are building a country, building a region and building a world fit for our children.
Thank You