Barbados is failing to adequately protect its children from abuse, according to the United Nations (UN) agency that fights for the rights of children.
UNICEF contends that the country has made strides in other areas such as universal primary education.
However, it remained concerned about the level of abuse and neglect.
“That is the biggest issue that we are trying to address here with the Government. The other one is related to that, which is positive behaviour management in schools. So trying to move away from corporal punishment as a tool for discipline, to managing classrooms and student behaviour through positive reinforcement,” UNICEF representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Khin-Sandi Lwin told Barbados TODAY during an open house at UN House in Hastings, Christ Church Monday.
“The positive trend is that we have universal primary education and the children of the primary age are in school. So that is very positive.”
The deaths in 2015 of six-year-old Jahan King – who died of chest trauma – and 12-year-old Shemar Weekes – who was found hanging at his St Lucy home – put human faces to the issue of child abuse and provoked outrage among Barbadians.
Jahan’s mother and her boyfriend have been charged with his killing, while Director of Public Prosecutions Charles Leacock, QC, said no criminal charges would be brought against anyone in the Shemar case due to insufficient evidence.
The Child Care Board, which was severely criticized for its handling of both cases, has said it dealt with over 700 cases of child abuse a year.
This notwithstanding, and without providing statistics, Lwin said Barbados was performing better “on many fronts” than other countries, “but in this child protection situation it needs a lot more attention and a lot more care and support to the Child Care Board”.
The child advocate said there was also need for speedier police response to reports of abuse, and for the courts to settle such cases more rapidly.
“It has to be at the social care side, the police and in the court system,” Lwin said.
The UN official also expressed concern about the issue of child obesity, telling Barbados TODAY a lot more work was needed in this area.
These, she said, included more physical activities for children, the promotion of healthy food at home and at school and legislation to support good nutrition and limit the sale of cheap sugary drinks.
“The health indicators, the nutrition indicators are all doing very well, but in nutrition for example, it has gone to the other extreme of childhood obesity, and that is a new area we are trying to address. Before, we had problems of underweight from the negative part of nutrition, now you have over-nutrition. That is something that has to be addressed as well because it is not good for health.”
However, while Lwin would not take a position on how high the taxes on sweetened beverages should go, she said the issue should be addressed in such a way that those who can afford the higher taxes would still be made to think twice about consuming too much of those beverages.
Throughout yesterday’s open day a number of development partners, including the inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, as well members of the diplomatic corps visited the UNICEF office where they found out more about the agency’s work in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean in the areas of safety and justice for children; lifelong learning; and social inclusion and child rights monitoring.
The open day was part of the programme in observance of UNICEF’s 70 anniversary and its 32nd year of operation in the region.