More children being abused in Jamaica

CHILD abuse cases in Jamaica are rising.

According to Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison, there was a dip in the number of child abuse reports at the start of the year, but the reports are now increasing.

“Last year everybody was distracted and completely preoccupied with COVID and so we had fewer numbers of persons paying attention to other things such as matters impacting children. I attribute the increase to persons now having adjusted to this new normal to take the time to bring matters to our attention, and in some situations we have had children who have reached out,” Gordon-Harrison told the Jamaica Observer in an interview on Friday.

In terms of the form of abuse mostly reported, Gordon Harrison said nationally, a child who is deemed to be in need of care and protection and cases of child neglect are the two greatest categories of reports. The third-highest reports are usually sexual abuse cases.

Minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Robert Morgan, during a Jamaica Observer Press Club on Friday also stated that the majority of abuse reported had to do with violence against children, followed by sexual violence against children and issues like abandonment and a child in need of care and protection.

Morgan also added that there were 12,604 reports of child abuse recorded in the most recent annual report by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency.

He said the reports were less than the previous year but cautioned that the figures might not reflect the true situation.

“A big avenue for reporting is the school system…Because children are now detached from the formal education system you may not have the opportunity to report. When people say the number of [instances of] abuse are reduced year on year, I take it as I get it, but I am sill a bit weary of it because I know that children are now at home where they may not have the opportunity to report as they used to,” Morgan said.

Further, the children’s advocate said her office continues its response to addressing reports of child abuse.

“We have an emergency responders unit, and whenever there is a crisis that requires immediate intervention that team is deployed and that team goes out to get first-hand what are some of the issues at play and whether or not we need to be taking the matters on personally or if there is another entity such as the police, for example, that is already doing their bid so we just need to follow up. There is also the response of our investigations in sections, and compliance, and [the] team that has been all across the 14 parishes recording statements from children, from witnesses, with a view to determining what is the next step. The next step for us at the OCA [Office of the Children’s Advocate] could refer to criminal prosecution in conjunction with the DPP [director of public prosecution] office and the police or it could result in civil litigation whereby we’re instituting claims on behalf of children who have had their rights breached, with a view to getting some damages or compensation from the court. Or, it could result in recommendations to duty bearers in certain institutions as to how they can correct whatever we saw that was going amiss,” the children’s advocate said.

“We are in court every single day, through the legal department, providing representation on behalf of children who are either the victims of negative circumstances, whether civil or criminal or who are in fact perpetrators and need legal representation before the court,” Gordon Harrison added

Meanwhile, the OCA in partnership with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and UNICEF are on the cusp of launching a national child help line that will offer therapeutic and other types of immediate remote support for children during the month of May. Gordon Harrison said the launch will commemorate Child Month and the 15th anniversary of the OCA.

“May is a strategic time to do it because it’s in conjunction with Child Month plus the OCAs 15th anniversary. Also, we will be having social media campaigns around different ways children can cope with issues such as the disruption to life called COVID, examination, mental health issues, and just general societal problems we know children may face and not know how to articulate,” she said.

The children’s advocate added that the #OCADoRoad initiative continues where the agency is traversing the 14 parishes, sharing the message of the OCA, and taking reports to ensure its mandate to protect the rights and best interests of all children in Jamaica is upheld.

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