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Our children are not only at risk they are in dire danger

Tuesday, July 01, 2014    

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An edited version of remarks by Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna at the Opening Session of UN Cross Regional Meeting on the Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Children at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in Kingston yesterday.

AT this moment, in every country, children are enduring the horrific impact of violence. Children who live in upscale neighbourhoods in North American or European countries suffer just as much as those children who live in their inner-cities. Equally, they suffer just as much as those children living in towns and villages in the Middle East, Africa, South and Central America and the Caribbean.

Both boys and girls are affected; and there is also no distinction among race, ethnic origin, education and family income. In short violence affects children everywhere.

The awful and inescapable truth is that the absolute horror and devastating effects on children are on many levels. For some countries while we grapple with the dreadful acts perpetrated at a local level, in many other parts of the world the gruesome acts of violence against our children are horrendous.

Almost on a nightly basis our global news network shows us in graphic detail, the ugly truth that there is always a war or armed conflict taking place somewhere in the world.

But what is often overlooked is the devastating impact these disastrous events have on children.

I am sure you have seen the pictures and videos of young boys with weapons and ammunition slung across shoulders so slender and frail they buckle under the pressure. Their eyes sometimes are either so narrow and cold and hard from memories no child should have of appalling deeds they have either witnessed, experienced, or done.

Sometimes their eyes are so huge and round with fear. Fear of the unknown — not knowing whether they will ever survive, or ever see their families again. But the lasting image I take away from these news clips is the pain I see etched in their young faces caused by injuries, hunger and incredible suffering.

It's estimated the world has lost approximately two million children in wars and armed conflicts in the last decade, with 250,000 forced to bear arms and thousands more killed or maimed. Another one million have been orphaned.

For those of us for whom this is not our reality, this level of violence and its awesome impact seems so far removed. We empathise and collectively we condemn but it's not our war. We can do nothing so we do nothing.

But what's worse is that in our reality there is — in every region of the world — tacit and also explicit approval of violence against our children. Our societies still condone acts of violence — calling them traditional discipline, domestic violence.

The fact is that the adjective before the verb may change but the horror of violence remains the same.

Here in Jamaica, as we grapple with our reality, while the issues surrounding the care and protection of children have been on the development agenda for a long time, it is only recently that we have really begun to understand the scale and impact of violence against children — and what it does to children.

The United Nations study on Violence Against Children (2006) refers to "studies from many countries in all regions of the world" (which) suggest that 80 to 98 per cent of children suffer physical punishment in their homes, with a third or more experiencing severe physical punishment resulting from the use of implements.

The awful truth is that children experience violence not only physically but often in different ways and different forms. We often indulge in academic and intellectual discourse and debates on the effect of violent lyrics in our music, violent images and language in film, television and video games — on our children and the resulting impact on society. Coupled with the reality of the increasingly high levels of domestic violence in the homes and levels of brutality often seen in their immediate communities, our children are not only at risk they are in dire danger. We can and must do something!

The impact of this violence, according to the report is "very often grave and damaging." The consequences to the victim may include "greater susceptibility to lifelong social, emotional, and cognitive impairments and to health-risk behaviours, such as substance abuse and early initiation of sexual behaviour." Early exposure to violence is associated with later lung, heart and liver disease, sexually transmitted diseases as well as later domestic violence and suicide attempts.

What an awful picture! What a dreadful future for our children!

The problem is clear and so too must be our purpose: the protection of children from violence is a matter of urgency which we must confront through focused, strategic and deliberate actions.

The ministry with portfolio responsibility for children decided that we cannot and will not leave our children's care and protection to chance.

To deal effectively with this problem, we have developed the National Plan of Action for an Integrated Response to Children and Violence. Through this, we aim to create and maintain a protective environment, supportive of children and responsive to violence against them. The Plan of Action is underpinned by a holistic rights based approach at both the national and local levels with specific short-term and long-term targets. The Plan requires a multi-sectoral approach for eliminating violence against children.

Additionally, we have made a number of changes to our children's services in Jamaica with the aim of improving care and preventing violence. These changes are being effected through:

* Increased capital expenditure for the upgrading of State care institutions, including allocations towards significantly improving the care offered in our institutions;

* Ensuring that the right people with the right skills, training and attitude are in the positions to take care of our children;

* Implementing co-curricular and extra-curricular programmes as well as training in social graces;

* Making amendments to the legislation/regulation to enhance child care and protection;

* Strengthening and expanding our parental training programmes;

* Extending and expanding our child rights education programme in schools and communities across the island while increasing the locations and avenues for the reporting of suspected or actual child abuse.

These initiatives will be complemented by the introduction of the following into our child care system over the medium to long term:

* A new Case Management System as part of the technological upgrade to bolster our efforts to standardise and harmonise services to children

* A model child care centre to point the way to new standards of care

* A therapeutic facility to cater to the needs of a significant cohort of children in care.

The issues that confront our children are grave. Violence against them is pervasive in every country. But every act of violence against every child is preventable.

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