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Children’s Advocate, Mary Clarke, has called on parents and caregivers to comply with the law and report cases of child abuse, warning that failure to do so could result in them being fined or imprisoned.
“Comply with the law don’t hide the cases you know about; the law requires compulsory reporting. Failure to comply will attract a fine of $500,000 or six months in prison, while knowingly making a false report attracts a $250,000 fine,” the Children’s Advocate outlined, adding that under the Child Care and Protection Act, cruelty to children attracted a $1 million fine.
Mrs. Clarke, who was speaking at the launch of the Bustamante Hospital for Children’s Child Abuse Prevention Campaign at the institution today (May 24), said that at a recent meeting with representatives of the justice system, it was reported that children, who were victims of rape and carnal abuse, often “disappeared” when it was time to appear before the courts.
“When the summons are served for them to come to court, they cannot be found; mothers don’t know, guardians don’t know, community members don’t know and after the date of the case, the child reappears. I am calling on you to be responsible citizens,” Mrs. Clarke appealed noting that the practice was “very irresponsible”.
“You are protecting abusers, you are helping no one,” she noted further, pointing out that the “very abusers if they are not helped, counseled or treated, will abuse children again, again and again, so when you hide the victims, when you hide witnesses, when you do not allow them to go to court, you are neither helping the victim nor the perpetrator.”
Meanwhile, citing crime statistics for 2005, the Children’s Advocate said that 24.2 per cent of the 8,275 victims of the major crimes were children less than 14 years of age, while 53 children, between the ages of 12 to 14 years, were arrested for major crimes including murders.
“We have to do something to address this,” she said, pointing to the need for greater awareness of the signs and symptoms of abused children to enable speedy intervention. These signs include sadness, depression, isolation, low self-esteem, lack of trust and poor academic performance.
“We have to be able to identify them and have targeted intervention…with parents and guardians”, Mrs. Clarke said, adding that children “in conflict with the law also need special programmes of rehabilitation (to ensure that they do not) end up in adult correctional institutions.”
Mrs. Clarke warned that in the absence of interventions for abused children they would “themselves become abusers” noting that “statistics show that many (abusers) were abused. “We have to break the cycle with our intervention”, Mrs. Clarke argued.
Public Defender Howard Hamilton in his comments, charged female caregivers and relatives to take the vanguard in protecting their female charges from carnal abuse. “Every caregiver, every relative, every mother of a child, who has suffered in this way, must know who did it.this can no longer continue,” he said.
Mr. Hamilton said the carnal abuse of months old female babies by grown men under the misconception that they would be cured of sexual diseases or infections, could not even be described as animalistic behaviour. “I was minded to describe it as men becoming animals but that would be an insult to the animals because animals wouldn’t treat their young like that. It is subhuman for any man to even contemplate”, he said.
Policy Consultant with the Education and Youth Ministry, Vivienne Williams Thompson, noted that the alarming trend of abuses against children was cause for grave concern, but pointed out that the “solution to the problems is at the heart of the family and in getting the family to function effectively.”
For her part, Senior Medical Officer at the Hospital, Dr. Sonia Thomas, said it was “distressing and saddening that it has become necessary that all who have the welfare of children at heart, have to raise their voices to try and stop the continued abuse of children”.
She said all who worked at the hospital could “attest to the steady increase in the numbers of (child) patients suffering from physical, mental and sexual abuse,” lamenting that with the busy schedules, some of the cases of mental abuse, were not being noticed.
Statistics reveal that of the 1,674 persons murdered in Jamaica last year, approximately 75 were children, with more than 300 children being murdered over the past five years. This is in addition to 367 cases of rape and 346 cases of carnal abuse in 2005 alone.
Since the start of the year, approximately 25 children have been murdered while the Child Abuse Mitigation Project (CAMP Bustamante) has logged 80 cases of sexual and physical abuse.