May is being observed as Child Month against the backdrop of significant public concern here in Jamaica about the state and well-being of the nation’s children, particularly in the context of reports of physical and sexual abuse against minors.
The Ministry of Youth and Culture and the Government of Jamaica, welcome the national media focus on children issues even as we recognise that adverse incidents against children require swift and effective action from the perspectives of prevention, rehabilitation and the punishment of persons who cause harm to children.
Let me state from the outset the Government’s view that the responsibility for protecting our children must be a national one requiring united and coordinated efforts on the part of everyone – parents, guardians, teachers, caregivers, the State, non-governmental organisations, community groups, the private sector, among other stakeholders.
The Government of Jamaica accepts its responsibility for taking the lead role in ensuring the protection and well-being of children, who constitute an important and valuable cohort of the population and citizenry. The design and implementation of effective policies and legislation is one way in which we continue to discharge this duty.
In this regard, some significant successes have been achieved in terms of the development, implementation and strengthening of institutional arrangements for delivering services to children including the work of the Child Development Agency (CDA), the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR), the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) and the Early Childhood Commission.
The promulgation of the Child Care and Protection Act and the strengthening of the Sexual Offences Act to protect children against sexual abuse and to increase punishment for such abuse, are among the vital steps taken in the interest of our children.
State institutions such as the CDA and the OCR have direct responsibilities for child service provision and we take those responsibilities seriously, even where these government institutions, like all others, operate within budgetary constraints.
The focus of the Ministry of Youth and Culture during Child Month this year, and for the immediate future thereafter, will be on achieving greater coordination of the protection and welfare services for children and having more at-risk children integrated into families. In this regard, work is already underway to:
1. Increase monitoring of the status of children
2. Ensure an improved and more efficient reporting system
3. Increase measures to prevent abuse and other adverse situations affecting children
4. Create a more coordinated and effective rapid response intervention mechanism
5. Build a more comprehensive database of information related to at-risk children that tracks and measures the outcomes of interventions
6. Undertake more detailed psychological and developmental testing and process evaluation of children and making those results part of the data available to intervention partners
In respect of integrating more children into appropriate and wholesome family settings, attention is being focused on identifying and treating with the underlying reasons children are placed in state and privately run residential care centres.
The Government remains convinced that effective child service delivery for the protection and well-being of our young ones is best achieved within the framework of concerted national and global partnerships that help to mobilise and channel human, technical, financial and other resources for local action.
In April the Child Development Agency, which operates within the portfolio of the Ministry of Youth and Culture, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of Technology (Utech). Under that arrangement the CDA will facilitate practical training for Utech students pursuing programmes in child and adolescent development as well as internships and placement for graduates of the university’s child and adolescent development programmes.
With the aim of ensuring that at-risk children become responsible, functional adult citizens, the Ministry of Youth and Culture has also forged a formal partnership involving the Private Sector of Jamaica (PSOJ) and theYouth Upliftment Through Employment (YUTE) programme. The collaboration involves skills training, educational certification and job placement for unattached youth, as well as training to enable them to provide services as youth mediators and peace facilitators among their peer in violence-prone communities.
An important part of our existing national and global partnership arrangements is the Country Programme Action Plan for Children recently signed by the Government and Jamaica and UNICEF. This Action Plan will invest some J$1.2 billion in children protection and development interventions over the next five years.
The Government of Jamaica’s pursuit of child protection and development is also being advanced in the context of our ongoing efforts and commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals to: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.
Contact: Huntley Medley