Address to the Nation By the Prime Minister
Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller ON, MP
On Issues Affecting Children
My fellow Jamaicans
The month of May is celebrated as Child Month and on Friday, May 15, we observed National Children’s Day.
This year, our children will also be the focus of Labour Day activities on Monday, May 25.
As we use Labour Day to give meaning to the theme: “Labour of Love: Nurturing Our Children”, we will be creating spaces of beauty and safety for our children to play, learn and enjoy the innocence of their childhood.
Today I want to speak with you about the love, protection and security of our nation’s children. Our children are dear to my heart, and I am sure, to the hearts of Jamaicans.
The Bible declares that children are a blessing from the Lord.
They embody the present and represent the future.
For me, children are the precious jewels of the nation; a valuable resource that must be cherished and protected. Children must be loved, cared for and nurtured.
Yet, it is with a deep sense of concern and sadness that I take note of the recent cases of abuse and crimes against our children.
These horrendous acts against our children, including murder, are unacceptable.The brutal killing of our children is a vile and dreadful occurrence that is alien to our culture.
I am also concerned about instances of parental neglect. Children who are neglected are exposed to violence, sexual abuse and murder.
The abuse of our children must never be condoned by anyone under any circumstances.
What have we become, when as a society we hurt and kill our children? As a country, we are destroying the social fabric of the society and blighting our collective future when we abuse and hurt our children.
Once again, I extend my sympathies, and those of the Government, to the grieving parents and relatives of those children who have lost their lives as a result of violence against them.
The grief of family members who have lost young ones is real and the pain is unbearable.
Too many of our children are being subjected to heartrending violence and physical, sexual and emotional abuse, many times carried out by family members and other persons they trust.
This must be dealt with immediately and firmly.
My fellow Jamaicans, the development of the children of Jamaica, and securing their future in a safe, prosperous environment,are matters receiving the urgent attention of the Government.
I will continue to speak out against child abuse and violence. I urge all Jamaicans to raise our voices and speak out against such evil.
Government is taking tough action in light of the continuing instances of children being murdered and mistreated.
Cabinet last week had a lengthy discussion on the matter.
As a result, the Cabinet has approved a Submission from the Minister of Justice to, among other things, prescribe harsher penalties for persons who murder, rape or commit other serious violent offences against children.
They will meet the full force of the law.
In these cases, the victim’s status as a child will be treated as an aggravating feature resulting in a harsher sentence on conviction.
Cabinet also approved a proposal for those cases to be given priority treatment in the trial list, with respect to scheduling and disposal.
Work is also underway for legislation to be passed to create a new offence of parental neglect. When this comes into effect, a parent whose child is found in circumstances consistent with inadequate parental care and attention,can be charged and tried for parental neglect.
Such circumstances will include children found unsupervised on the streets or other public places late at night, or, a child, found living with an adult where the arrangement exposes the child to the risk of sexual or other abuse.
There are too many cases of children who are exposed to these dangers.
A new provision will also be inserted in the legislation to expand the number of agencies to which reports of child abuse can be made.
We must be committed to reporting all instances of child abuse to the relevant state agencies such as the Police, the Centre For the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), the Child Development Agency and the Office of the Children’s Registry.
As we observe Child Month, to celebrate our precious children, let us truly commit ourselves to this year’s theme: “Children’s Safety and Security – Our Priority.”
Every single one of us must make the safety and security of Jamaica’s children our personal priority.
Parents, guardians, teachers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers must see the safety and security of our children as their responsibility.
Pastors, Sunday School teachers, neighbours, bus and taxi drivers, conductors, shopkeepers – everyone must ensure our children’s safety!
Let us give real meaning to the African Proverb which says, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Adults must set good examples for children. Let us heed Proverbs 22 verse 6, which says: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Let us encourage our children instead of using harsh words to them.
The story is told in the Book of St. Luke,of Jesus admonishing his disciples not to turn away the children who were brought to him. Instead, Jesus called them and blessed them.
He said: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”
This is a powerful lesson for us today, let no man or woman touch a child unless it is to do good and to lift that child to new heights of achievement and wholesome development.
We cannot turn a blind eye to child abuse.We cannot fail our children.
Let us each take personal responsibility for our children.
We all have to play our part to ensure that good triumphs over evil.
I want to commend in a special way those individuals and organisations who continue to work in the interest of children. I know that God is faithful to bless and prosper the good works of those who help our children to fulfill their God-given potential.
Among our little ones, are our future teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers. They are our future business men and women, scientists and innovators, musicians, writers, artistes and sportsmen and women.
Among them are future Governors General, Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition.
Parents have the ultimate responsibility to care for their children.
Both mothers and fathers have important roles to play in positively shaping the lives of children.
Treat your children with love, kindness and respect.
Make sure you know where children are at all times. Children require adult supervision.
Take them to Sunday School and teach them positive values.
Talk with your children and patiently listen as they discuss their thoughts, their feelings and their ambitions.
I paraphrase thefreedom-fighter Frederick Douglas who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.”
So, as we observe Child Month 2015, I make a special plea to all Jamaicans to commit to protecting our nation’s children. This is our duty.
Like Jacob in Genesis 33 verse 5, we must proudly proclaim that:“these are the children which God has graciously given thy Servant.” These are indeed, the precious children, which the Lord has given unto us.
As an unknown poet wrote –
Our children are our lives
and our most important goal,
to love and to guide them
and to place them in life’s role.
Our children are our future
and time will only tell
the job we’ve done as parents
and when we’ve done it well.
Parenting and child care, are among our most important national responsibilities. We must ensure that we “do it well”.
May God continue to bless the children of Jamaica, land we love.