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Story Highlights

  • The Minister lamented that too many cases of child abuse goes un-reported and the children are often abused by persons they know.
  • The Office of the Children’s Registry received 7, 245 reports of sexual abuse between 2007 and 2011.
  • The Government has implemeted measures inclusive of upliftment programmes in terms of counselling over the past year in juvenile facilities and places of safety

Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna, is again imploring all well-thinking Jamaicans to play a greater role in protecting the nation’s children against all forms of abuse, in particular, sexual abuse.

“If you see a child acting in a particular manner, you have a duty…not only your moral responsibility, but you have a duty by law to protect that child…If you know of the child being hurt in some way…and you don’t say or do something, you can also be held accountable. So I am pleading with you…to let us all try and do our part,” she stressed.

The Minister was addressing a symposium on the issue of child sexual abuse in Jamaica staged by the Webster Memorial United Church at its Carlton Crescent location in Kingston on Friday (October 4).

The Minister lamented that too many cases of child abuse goes un-reported, informing that “we see on a weekly basis, not only young girls, but young boys…being molested by people that they know”.

The Office of the Children’s Registry received 7, 245 reports of sexual abuse between 2007 and 2011.

She said that a number of young people, who have been placed in juvenile detention systems and facilities for “uncontrollable behavior” have been found to have been sexually abused.

She said that the Government has been taking significant steps to address this issue, noting that upliftment programmes in terms of counselling have been implemented over the past year in juvenile facilities, places of safety and a number of other areas.

The Minister also pointed to the recent return of over 1,400 children, who were missing, many of whom were sent away for fear of them being molested by dons in their communities.

She stressed that another issue that needs to be addressed in Jamaica is incest, noting that it is tolerated in some parishes, where it is the cultural norm for fathers to take their daughters’ virginity.

“We have a big problem with incest in Jamaica and it’s not spoken about and it’s not only happening in lower income households, it is happening in upper income households as well from the reporting that we are seeing,” she lamented.

Former head of the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), Superintendent Gladys Brown, echoed Minister Hanna’s plea for citizens to get more involved in addressing child abuse.

“It is our business and it is full time we take on the responsibility of our children as part of our responsibility as a nation,” she stressed.

One issue, she said, that keeps emerging as the police intensifies its efforts at educating the public about sexual abuse, is that often, parents are unaware their children are being abused, because the perpetrator is usually known to the child and is someone the parent trusts.

“In fact, that’s how they get to abuse them, because the children are entrusted to them, and in turn, the children trust them and so they get a chance to abuse them and to encase the entire thing in a shroud of silence and to tell them ‘this is our little game, don’t tell anybody,’” she noted.

“We have to be educating the public and to say these are the things you are to warn your children about. Some persons think that at three years old, it’s too early to tell our children that they are to be careful and they are not to allow anybody to touch their private parts, but it is not too early.

“As soon as a child becomes aware of body parts, it’s important that we as parents and guardians inform them that nobody is to touch them in certain parts,” Superintendent Brown stressed.

In her remarks, guidance counsellor at the St. Andrew High School for Girls, Catherine McCook, said that those of her profession have a critical role to play in helping children to solve and address these issues, by using a variety of counselling techniques and methods.

She said a key part of this is dispelling some of the misconceptions about sexual abuse that children struggle with or have embraced. Among them is that it is not sexual abuse if it is not rape.

“You find that the children, often they have been fondled, they have been exposed to sexual content, sexual grooming takes place and so the children don’t want to say sexual abuse, because it’s not rape. So, we have been working with the children to teach them to understand that sexual abuse is more than just that whole act of rape and violent sex,” she said.

The event, dubbed:‘Hear My Cry Symposium,’ was held as part of the third staging of the church’s Harvest Extravaganza.

Minister at the church, Rev. Astor Carlyle, said the symposium was put on given the church’s concern for the plight of the nation’s children suffering from sexual abuse. “We believe this symposium will provide an opportunity for public discussion on an issue that we, for too long, have swept under the carpet,” he said.

It was held under the patronage of Custos of Kingston, Hon. Steadman Fuller who is also a member of the church.