KINGSTON — Youth, Sports and Culture Minister, Hon. Olivia Grange, says exposure to armed violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, particularly for commercial purposes, are some of the major challenges facing children.
Speaking at the second regional meeting of the Inter-American Programme for the Prevention and Eradication of Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Illegal Trafficking and Trade in Children and Adolescents, at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, on July 6, Miss Grange said that a 2007 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Report disclosed that adolescents, 15 to 18 years, particularly boys in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala, and El Salvador, were deemed most “at-risk” to armed violence.
She said that while some stakeholders are pre-disposed to blaming young people for society’s challenges, children, more often than not, were the victims rather than the aggressors.
“These numbers (from UNICEF) must mean something to us in this region. In Jamaica, the Child Development Agency, our leading child care and protection agency, reports that children under the age of 10 account for 17 per cent of all sexual assault cases; and children between 10 and 19 account for 57 per cent of all sexual assaults. We are concerned about the care and safety of our children,” the Minister said.
“The challenges we face might differ from territory to territory, but I believe that all of us accept that no child is safe until all children are safe. Therefore, the care and protection of children in Guyana and the islands in between, is of interest to us here in Jamaica. These are real children who are in need of urgent action. We must respond with all the tools at our disposal,” she urged.
In this regard, Ms. Grange highlighted several legislative interventions, which have been enacted with a view to safeguarding the welfare of Jamaica’s children. These, she said, include provisions in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms; the Child Care and Protection Act, and the Trafficking in Persons, Prevention, Suppression and Punishment Act 2007.
“We are also moving to tackle the commercial sex abuse through the Child Pornography Prevention Act…which will ensure protection for children, particularly girls, who are the primary victims of this crime,” the Minister said.
Other interventions, she informed, include: the Cyber Crimes Bill, and amendments to the Evidence Act, which are being finalised to allow vulnerable witnesses, many of whom are children, to give evidence in court proceedings by way of video link, and not having to face the offender.
“We are also looking at amendments to the Incest Punishment Act, and Offences against the Person Act, to develop the Sexual Offences Act, to provide greater protection of minors from sexual abuse,” she further informed.
Ms. Grange said that legislative interventions alone are not adequate, stressing that “we can’t just set targets and pass laws, and expect that the problems that our children and youth face, will disappear."
The Minister explained that a multi-sectoral approach is needed, with all stakeholders playing pivotal roles to effectively address the problems.
The two-day meeting, held under the theme: ‘Protecting Children of the Caribbean from Commercial Sexual Exploitation’, was jointly staged by the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), in association with the Inter-American Children’s Institute (IIN), which co-ordinates the Inter-American Programme.
More than 30 delegates from some 12 regional states attended the meeting, which was aimed at facilitating dialogue and discussions to create a framework of regional co-operation and collaboration on issues pertaining to child protection, particularly relating to commercial sexual exploitation; identifying and adopting best practises; and sharing experiences.
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter