AHEAD of National Child Month in May, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) has revealed that it received almost 10,000 reports of abuse against children last year.
“In 2020 the CPFSA received 9,800 cases of abuse against children. Sexual abuse accounted for 20 per cent of these reports. Since the [coronavirus] pandemic we've seen an increase in parishes such as St Thomas, St Elizabeth, St Mary, Portland and slightly in Hanover,” Rosalee Gage-Grey, chief executive officer of the CPFSA, said yesterday at the virtual launch of Child Month hosted by the National Child Month Committee.
“Children are suffering in silence as their safe spaces have been shuttered in an effort to reduce the impact of the pandemic. The current reality of many of our children is anxiety and fear. The [coronavirus] pandemic has impacted on how they learn, play and grow,” Gage-Grey declared. The CPFSA, she said, wants a Jamaica where no child will be abused, reiterating that the nation's children deserve to be protected.
“The CPFSA remains committed in the care and protection of Jamaica's children deemed at-risk or otherwise in need of care and protection. Through our primary, secondary and tertiary prevention programmes we aim to protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect, harm or threat of harm,” said Gage-Grey.
In 2019 the CPFSA launched the National Plan of Action for an Integrated Response to Children and Violence (NPACV), geared towards ending violence against children. This is being implemented over a five-year period.
However, Gage-Grey said in recent times the organisation has had to rethink child protection, “placing greater emphasis on parenting and community parenting”.
She described the month of May as “one of the most significant months of the calendar”.
By proclamation in 2012 Sir Patrick Allen, the governor general of Jamaica, declared the third Friday in the month of May as National Children's Day. This year this will be observed on Friday, May 21 under the theme: 'I soar: I strive to overcome adversities with resilience.'
Chairperson of the National Child Month Committee Dr Pauline Mullings urged Jamaicans to observe this day and what it represents, citing the hectic and high-stress times in which children have to exist.
“Treat the children, especially on that day. Boost their spirits, give them tangible gifts, reaffirm their worth, reaffirm your love for them, help them to soar,” Mullings said.
Though the 68-year-old committee which is made up of 19 agencies primarily highlights children in the month of May, Mullings said there are other significant occasions when children are celebrated.
“Other significant occasions are provided to give them a platform to speak and to recognise their efforts in triumphing over adversities. On Friday, November 5, we will host our annual youth forum. Our youth are given the opportunity to express their fears and concerns about what's happening in our nation, and its impact on them. They are given the opportunity to voice their ideas of possible interventions that could be used to make a positive change,” she said.
Meanwhile, Robert Morgan, state minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, underscored that the way children are dealt with now will determine how the society moves forward.
He said it's difficult for him as a minister when he has to review the many incidents impacting children.
“The sexual abuse, the violence, the children who are deemed uncontrollable and are placed in penal institutions without charge, exposed to persons who themselves have criminal tendencies. The incidents within our State care system of abuse, the incidents in the private care system of abuse. These are the issues that I confront every Monday morning.
“We recognise here at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information that we are at, more or less...a crossroads in the whole conversation and action related to children. Over the last six months several issues related to children have been unearthed within the society.”
Morgan said much is being done by many players to raise awareness, but much more is needed. Currently, there is work being done to repeal an aspect of Section 24 of the Child Care and Protection Act, which gives judges the discretion to use a detention order to place children in penal institutions without charge “for simple things as running away”.
“I will suggest to you that the sum of all our work is still not enough, as we have yet to turn the corner on one of the most challenging issues that we face – and that is the issue of violence against children,” he lamented, saying that there are also plans to reform the child care system.
Added Morgan: “The conversation needs to take place in our society that young girls and young boys are not receptacles for the pleasures of men and women. The conversation needs to take place about how we can change the culture of our society where we no longer see children as assets – as ornaments initially, entertainment intermediately, and pensions finally – but see them as human beings who have thoughts and feelings and emotions, who have a whole world of aspirations that can be fulfilled with just a guiding hand and a loving heart.”
He urged those who are aware of child abuse to report such.
“There can be no arrest without a report. There can be no consequence without evidence. There are many incidents in communities in Jamaica that are not reported.”
Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison, meanwhile, said: “We are ready to stand ready to help you [children] to see how we can persevere together through difficult times and hope, as well as work together, for a better future.”