The Ministry of Youth and Culture, through the Child Development Agency (CDA), took its message of personal responsibility for child care and protection to Westmoreland, where over 180 cases of child abuse has been reported between January and May this year.
The third in a series of island-wide community forum and expo was held at the Sean Lavery Faith Hall, Savanna-La-Mar, on Thursday (September 13) under the theme ‘Every child is my child’. The event was part of the CDA's ongoing effort to encourage members of various communities to get involved in reducing the incidence of child abuse in the society and to empower children to reach their full potential.
Addressing participants, Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna, pointed to a culture of child abuse in Jamaica which, she says, reflects a negative trend in a country that was now celebrating many positive things.
"The reported incidences of child abuse in Jamaica are too many… It is unacceptable that in a four year period in our country, between 2007 to 2011, there have been more than 25,000 reported cases of child abuse. We are not sure what numbers go unreported. The information coming from the Office of the Children's Registry shows that of the total 3,645 cases of reports between January and May of this year, almost 180 cases have come from Westmoreland alone… with the two highest incidences of abuse being sexual abuse and neglect.
"Even more alarming is that you have not been able to have any convictions for persons who have committed sexual abuse against children in Westmoreland,” The Minister continued.
Ms. Hanna stated that the Ministry would be taking closer observation of the western parishes, looking at the culture there in relation to sexual abuse and other forms of abuse. She invited participants at the forum and expo to: “embrace the two-fold message being projected which were, preventing child abuse and encouraging all Jamaicans, parents and guardians, neighbours, teachers and children present to report all cases of abuse”.
The Youth and Culture Minister emphasised that it is the government’s mission to ensure that no child is denied the right to be safe, protected, empowered and provided with the opportunities to realise their dream.
She noted however, that “the protection of our country’s children is not just a matter for the Government or a Minister or a Member of Parliament, or even a mother, because mothers and fathers too need help and advice."
Chief Executive Officer of the CDA, Carla Francis-Edie, reaffirmed this message to participants, telling them: “The entire community must begin to take active steps to reduce, rescue and uplift our children. As parents all, we must be held accountable and do whatever we can within the confines of the law, to look after our children … we must ensure that we do all in our power to protect our children from the many threats in the society."
Mrs. Francis-Edie made it clear that the CDA could not continue to “pick up the slack” for those parents who should be held accountable for their failure to care for the children entrusted to them.
"We cannot be an enabler in the erosion of the social fabric of the society. I also urge community members to be more vigilant and report those parents who are derelict in their duties, even as you look out for others in the community who are abusing children.
"Under the law you must report known or suspected cases of abandonment or neglect. I am pleading with you all to join with us in this effort... I encourage residents of Savanna-la-Mar to speak openly and freely (during this forum) about issues affecting children in your communities. It is only when we talk about them that we can begin working together on solutions," Mrs. Francis Edie said.