Child Month must not be just another month
Starting today, and for the next 30 days, Jamaica will observe Child Month with a number of activities all designed to promote the welfare of our children.
It is our hope that during this month, those parents, guardians and caregivers who are not so inclined will come to appreciate that they need to give greater attention to caring for and nurturing our children.
For while no one can discount the fact that we have, over the last decade, made strides as a country to protect children, there still remains a lot of work to be done to ensure a more caring environment for them.
Anyone who doubts that just needs to reflect on the Sunday Observer lead story last month reporting Dr Sandra Knight's revelation of sexual abuse of children.
According to Dr Knight, children — some as young as four years old — have been treated for gonorrhoea, syphilis, herpes, and HIV at the Bustamante Hospital for Children after being raped by close family members, including their fathers.
Dr Knight spoke with authority because she treated many of these horrifying cases at the hospital and had got to the point where she could no longer remain silent.
Her hope, having gone public with the information, is that more people would be moved to protect children, many of whom apparently endure months and years of abuse before they are eventually rescued.
Since then, other disturbing cases of child abuse have surfaced, giving more weight to our call in this space for the Sexual Offenders' Registry to be made operational.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in its 2011 State of the World's Children report, tells us that "an estimated 300 million children worldwide are subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse, including the worst forms of child labour in communities, schools and institutions; during armed conflict; and to harmful practice".
That is not very encouraging data.
In relation to Jamaica, the UNICEF statistics state that six per cent of children between ages five and 14 are involved in child labour, while 89 per cent of children between the ages two and 14 years experience violent forms of discipline, including psychological aggression and/or physical punishment.
The child labour figure, we accept, appears small, especially when compared with what obtains in Belize, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, Haiti, and Guyana, where the numbers range from 16 per cent in Guyana to a high of 40 per cent in Belize.
Nonetheless, we cannot be satisfied with the fact that that many children are being put to work, and worse, we simply cannot accept the fact that so many of our children are subjected to violent forms of discipline.
No wonder that most of the teens reported to the police as missing are eventually found to have run away from their homes, no doubt because of unbearable conditions.
We have no doubt that frustration, triggered by the social and economic conditions being experienced by many persons, influences the way they treat their children.
It is important, therefore, that while the State creates the climate for investment, poverty reduction and security, adults, and indeed adolescents, are constantly reminded that they have a duty to protect all children.
Now is a good time to reinforce that message which, we hold, must be sustained...for our children's sake.
Child Month should not and must not be just another month.