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The voices of children filled the lecture room of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) recently, as they participated in discussion on issues that affect them, including the traditionally taboo topic of sexual abuse, during the third annual ‘HUSH’ symposium.

The event, held under the theme: ‘Broken Butterflies,’ offered the children the opportunity to interact with others, and to be able to learn and understand how to deal with some of the matters that impact their everyday lives.

In addition to sexual abuse, other topics dealt with were bullying, delinquent behavior, children in conflict with the law, and internet-based offences against children.

The participants, many of whom attend various schools across the Corporate Area, heard testimonials from their peers and young adults about their personal experience as it related to the topics. The confessionals were led by Moderator, Tanya Richards-Powell, who spoke of her own experience of rape as a child.

Director of the Programme Coordination Division at the IOJ, Jacqueline Bushay, informed that the objective of the symposium was to motivate and empower children to more positive actions and behaviours.

She said it was geared towards: discussing topical issues that are traditionally taboo with children; empowering children and providing them with comprehensive information and decision-making skills; increasing awareness of the institutional frameworks that support children and their needs; helping children cope with peer pressure and reduce the probability of them being involved in risky or unhealthy behaviours; teaching children how to reduce their likelihood of becoming a sexual target; and informing children about their rights and responsibilities

“Today, with the help of our presenters sharing their experiences and knowledge…, it is hoped that you will be able to sift through and examine the various issues and be empowered to take steps to make informed decisions in relation to your behaviours,” she stated.

“I hope that at the end of this symposium, we will no longer be hushed but we will leave with the resolve to speak out and make a difference in the lives of our children,” Mrs. Bushay said.

Associate Child Ambassador in the Office of the Children’s Advocate, Francesco Willie, who is a student of the Pembroke Hall Primary School, advised the students of their rights and responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“All the rights fall into three categories known as the three Ps – provision rights, protection rights and participation rights,” he advised.

He also reminded them that along with rights come responsibilities. These include a responsibility to be respectful; to do their school work; to take care of their health and hygiene; to obey rules and regulations; not to waste food; respect the opinions of others even when they are different; and to refrain from acts of violence. He further advocated that they speak out against neglect and abuse.

Children’s Advocate, Diahann Gordon-Harrison, stated that HUSH is a “marvelous” initiative.

She told the youngsters that, “as children, you are entitled to have all the good times, all the fun times, all the positive influences in your lives, but the sad truth is that…there are so many negative influences that can cause you to feel sad at times, that can cause you to feel down, that can cause you to feel disheartened, that is, broken as a butterfly.”

She encouraged them to dare to dream when challenges come their way. “But like the butterfly, what I would encourage you to do is that in the deepest, darkest, saddest moments, you can dare to dream”.

“When you dream there is so much power, so much positivity that comes to you that it tends to transpose you or lift you to another plane, or to another sphere. … never give up on that hope that there will be a better day and that you, like the butterfly, will soar to achieve better times,” Mrs. Gordon-Harrison said.

Contact: Andrea Braham