SHOCKING! Over 7,000 children sexually abused in last four years

'Informer fi dead' culture fuels silence on child abuse

BY INGRID BROWN Senior staff reporter browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 05, 2012

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AT least 7,245 Jamaican children are reported to have been sexually assaulted over the last four years, according to complaints received by the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR).


At the same time, OCR officials say that Jamaica's "informer fi dead" culture is preventing even more people from reporting the dastardly acts.


While it is not clear if more children are becoming victims of sexual abuse, statistics from the OCR have shown a massive spike in the number of reports received, with the figure jumping from 121 reported cases in 2007 to 2,652 as of last year.


There is however no system in place as yet at the registry to determine how many of these reported cases have been prosecuted.


But despite these high numbers, it took the voice of a frustrated and traumatised medical practitioner to shine the spotlight on the plight of these children and to evoke public outrage.


A number of state agencies which deal with children's issues have since called on Jamaicans to break their silence.


The Child Development Agency (CDA), Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA), Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) yesterday issued a joint statement as a result of this week's Sunday Observer lead story in which Dr Sandra Knight highlighted the plight of Jamaican children who have been raped and in some cases infected with sexually transmitted diseases.


In response to the article, which has generated much public outrage, concern and offers of help, the agencies said Jamaicans need to break the silence on this "intolerable violation of children's rights".


The agencies lauded Dr Knight for being outspoken on the issue in the media.


"Sexual abuse is one of the most heinous forms of violence against children, which no child should ever have to endure," the statement said.


The State bodies said the alarming news that greeted the public on Sunday has been a major concern of theirs for many years.


"Our agencies have each been working with a range of partners over many years to address this issue, through programmes, policies and laws that seek to prevent abuse and to provide treatment and care for young victims," the agencies said.


Noting that sexual abuse is a complex issue, the agencies admit that their work on the ground and at the policy level is not enough.


"All Jamaicans, including professionals who work with children, parents, caregivers, the media and the public must assume their responsibility to protect the nation's children," the agencies said, adding that "breaking the silence is critical".


On Tuesday, Greig Smith, registrar of the OCR, and his colleague public education specialist Trevesa Dasilva Ashman both agreed that the "informer fi dead' culture, which has kept Jamaicans silent on so many issues, has resulted in a lot more persons not speaking up about sexual abuse of the nation's children.


Smith told the Jamaica Observer that prior to the establishment of the registry there were concerns by the public as to where they could report these cases without their identities being revealed.


"Persons may say if I go to the police or any other agency, by [the] time I reach back the community it is being said that I made a report," he explained.


However, because of the OCR's confidentiality clause, the identity of the reporter is never revealed.


As such, persons can call the registry at 1-888-776-8328 between 7:00 am and 11:00 pm to report any suspected case of child abuse; whether it is neglect, child labour, trafficking, physical, emotional or sexual.


Smith explained that the information is assessed and recorded, following which a report is prepared and forwarded to the CDA, the OCA and the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse for investigation and/or intervention.


Dasilva Ashman said while persons making the report do not have to give their names, they are strongly encouraged to do so in the event the matter reaches the court, as the law states that if someone suspects child abuse and does not report it they can be charged or imprisoned.


"We had a case of a mother who knew her child was being sexually abused by the boyfriend and did not report it and the case was brought before the courts and the OCR was subpoenaed to go to court to testify if the mother had made the report. We got the report, but it was not made by the mother, but someone else, and she has been imprisoned since for failure to report," she explained.


Majority of the reports to the OCR are from 'prescribed' persons, according to Dasilva Ashman. These are persons such as doctors, teachers guidance counsellors social workers, etc who, by virtue of their occupation, care for children.


"One of the things we do in communication activities is to target these prescribed persons because we realise they are in a strategic position to be able to identify when a child is being abused and be able to report it," she said.



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