Registrar of the Office of Children’s Registry (OCR), Greig Smith, is calling on Jamaicans to “break the silence,” so that the nation’s children, especially the girls who seem to be more affected by child abuse, can receive the intervention they need.
Mr. Smith was addressing a public forum on ‘Ending Impunity for Sexual Violence: Breaking the Silence’, at the Courtleigh Hotel, New Kingston, on October 11.
The forum was held on a day recognized globally as the inaugural ‘International Day of the Girl Child’ and was sponsored by the Ministry of Youth and Culture and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Mr. Smith noted that the strengthening of the local legislative and institutional framework and the introduction of the OCR, has resulted in increased reports of child abuse cases. He pointed out that over the past four years there have been approximately 25,000 reported cases of child abuse, of which 58 per cent, or 6 in every 10, were about girls.
This trend has continued into this year, as between January and June 2012, there were4,499 reports, including 3,773 new cases. Of that number, 59.3 per cent were girls.
“While the data indicate a welcome improvement in the incidents and culture of reporting, it also tells us that something is wrong in our society and that relates to child abuse. For even as we continue to receive increased reports, there is still a significant number that go unreported and so many children, including girls, continue to suffer in silence,” Mr. Smith said.
In the meantime, Director, UNFPA Sub-regional office of the Caribbean, Geetha Sethi, said that although the global focus of ‘International Day of the Girl Child’ was on child marriage, based on what has been happening in Jamaica in recent times, the decision was taken to focus on sexual violence.
“We want this to be the first in a series of conversations and discussions, because this is an issue that we all need to talk about more, so that we can all understand what’s happening better and understand how we can find solutions to this,” Mrs. Sethi said.
The forum heard unanimous condemnation of the upsurge of sexual violence against women. Members of the public made suggestions as to how policy makers can address the issue in a meaningful way, including making an amendment to the Evidence Act, which now allows the rape victim to face the accuser; and address the manner in which jurors are instructed in rape cases.
They also called for a policy that allows police personnel to make follow-up calls to persons who have made a report to the station and have not returned; the need for standardized protocols in all the agencies on how to deal with abuse; introduction of the use of creative ways to get the message of gender violence in the public domain; the need to simplify the message from the policy documents and take it to young people through social media.
There were also pledges from participants to do their part in an effort to end gender based violence.
Brief presentations were also made by several panelists, including Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Faith Webster, who spoke on ‘Gender Based Violence – Dimensions of the Problem’; Regional Director, South East Region Child Development Agency, Noel Stennett, who presented on ‘The impact Of Violence On Children and Adolescents’; Claudette Thompson from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions spoke on ‘Access To Justice For Women Victims of Sexual Violence’; while Lecturer in the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, Taitu Heron, spoke on ‘The Nexus Between Gender and Violence”.
Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Foundation, Donna-Parchment Brown, chaired the forum.