The Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR) is putting more measures in place to eliminate the silence of child abuse.
Several initiatives will be rolled out this year, as the organisation celebrates its fifth anniversary under the theme: ‘Celebrating Five Years of Breaking the Silence’.
One such initiative is the establishment of a three-digit number, so that children may call and self-report. At the moment, persons can make a report by calling 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8328). Reports can also be faxed to 908-2579 or emailed to: email@example.com.
“We recognise that the 1-888 PROTECT number, which we will still continue to use, is a bit lengthy for children to remember. We are cognisant of that fact and we are making strides to replace that,” Registrar of the OCR, Greig Smith, tells JIS News. He said the Registry is working out the details regarding the funding of the project.
To facilitate the receiving of reports, the Registry has extended its operating hours at the main office in Kingston. The office now operates from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. “Having the three-digit number will impact our operation process by extending it to 24 hours,” Mr. Smith said, adding that plans are also in place to set up offices in Montego Bay, St. James and Spanish Town, St. Catherine, to receive and assess reports of child abuse.
The Registrar notes that more and more Jamaicans are speaking out against child abuses, with statistics from the OCR revealing that the organisation received over 24,000 reports since its inception, in 2007, some 445 of which were received in its first year of operation.
In 2008, the Registry received over 3,900 reports of child abuse, with the number of reports increasing in 2009 and 2010 to over 6,000. In 2011, an estimated 7,000 reports were received. Among the main forms of abuse reported were physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, trafficking and child labour.
Mr. Smith tells JIS News that neglect was the most prevalent abuse, with the OCR receiving some 2,013 reports for the period 2007 to July 2011.
“I’m quite sure when we clean the data to get the accuracy of it, we would have passed that 2,013 reports of children being neglected,” he adds.
Mr. Smith explains that the neglect of a child refers to the lack of supervision. There is also neglect when children are without food, clothing, shelter and are not attending school at the required age, based on the Child Care and Protection Act. Under Section 6 of the law, persons who have information on suspected or known child abuse and fail to make a report to the Registry shall be liable upon summary conviction before a Resident Magistrate to a fine not exceeding $500,000 or to imprisonment not exceeding six months.
But despite the increase in reports, the OCR is of the opinion that there are still a large number of un-reported cases.
“We do get reports, but not to the extent of what we would really want and so I think through public education, persons will be more aware that under the Child Care and Protection Act, children ought not to be on the streets begging. It is totally against the law,” he says, and emphasises that it is also wrong to have children on the streets selling or collecting money for walk-a-thons and other activities.
Mr. Smith points out that many of the reports come from “hot spot areas,” in Clarendon, Kingston and St. Andrew, Manchester, Westmoreland, St. James and St. Ann. There are also frequent reports from business and resort areas, he adds.
He attributes the increased reports of child abuse to some key factors, such as uninformed parents as well as the socio-economic situation in the country.
Mr. Smith is hopeful that with increased public education and awareness of the Child Care and Protection Act, more persons will make reports of child neglect.
Additionally, he says a baseline study will be conducted this year to guide the formulation of child-friendly policies and to inform the public education efforts.
A Child Ambassador Programme will also be launched this year. He says the idea came about as a result of the OCR’s islandwide consultations held late last year. Over 400 children and school officials participated and learnt about child abuse and reporting procedures.
According to Mr. Smith, the children will be the spokespersons and share the information with their peers as well as represent the OCR at activities within their parishes, communities and regions.
“We want to get them involved instead of seeing workers from the OCR at all times. The children will have a greater impact and be able to reach other children in making reports of child abuse,” he tells JIS News.
Chief Executive Officer of the Child Development Agency (CDA), Carla Francis-Edie, welcomes plans by the OCR to introduce the three-digit number.
The CEO says the current 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8328) number may be a deterrent, since not many children call the organisation to make reports. She cites the need for a shorter number to encourage more calls from children.
Mrs. Francis-Edie expresses the hope that the project will soon become a reality, while emphasising the need for every citizen to be vigilant and assist in educating the children. She says the abuse of children is wrong, “whether it is your mother, father, uncle, aunt or whomever, it is never right,” she tells JIS News..
Government has taken steps to deal with the problem of child rights, having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in May 1991.
Since then, a number of initiatives have been introduced to strengthen the care and protection of the almost one million children living in Jamaica.
The Office of the Children’s Registry has the responsibility to receive reports of children who have been, are being or are likely to be abandoned, neglected, physically or sexually ill-treated or are otherwise in need of care and protection.
By Elaine Hartman Reckord, JIS PRO