It is a gut-wrenchingly hard thing to contemplate for most right-thinking Barbadians – what could be worse than knowingly causing an innocent child serious harm, be it physical, sexual or emotional?
It’s perhaps for this reason that the subject of child abuse is so taboo that it is simply not discussed.
This silence, many will argue, is not intended to protect a perpetrator, which should never be tolerated.
Nevertheless, and for whatever reason, it is time to break the silence.
The horror that is the ongoing story of extreme violation of children’s rights in Jamaica should give us pause – and renew our commitment to ensuring that there is no place to run and hide for child abusers.
As you read this, the Jamaican authorities are hunting the murderer of an eleven-year-old girl hardly before the country could recover from the death of an eight-year-old on April 16.
Ten children have been murdered in Jamaica so far this year.
We feel the pain of our sister CARICOM member state. But we must redouble our efforts to ensure we may never be visited with such a grim visage.
May is Child Month, and as noted last Tuesday at a press conference by Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde at Divi South winds Resort, it is a good opportunity to step up our fight against this heinous crime.
During the briefing, Forde did not mince words as she vented her disgust at the repeated reports of child abuse.
“The mother is beating the child, the mother throw kerosene oil, or beat it [child] in it head with a hammer…. We see it every day. That form of impregnation by a big hard back man has to stop,” Forde declared.
Figures released back in March by the coordinator of the Child Abuse Programme at the Child Care Board, Roxanne Sanderson-Weekes, showed a decline in the overall number of child abuse cases in the island.
For 2017-2018, there were 716 child abuse cases affecting 947 children. Of that, there were 526 new cases which 669 new children, she said.
She explained that these figures showed a decrease over those for the previous 2016-2017. That year, there were 206 more cases involving 265 more minors.
Sanderson-Weekes expressed concern over the “very” young ages at which children are being abused. She reported that up to age four, there were 43 cases of physical abuse of minors recorded and 28 incidents of sexual abuse; 179 cases of neglect; 26 of emotional trauma and two cases of abandonment.
For those five years and under 12, some 84 were the victims of physical abuse; 40 sexual abuse; 176 were neglected; 34 emotionally abused and four abandoned while in the 12-16 age group there were 42 children who were physically abused; 71 sexually abused; 70 were neglected; 43 were subjected to emotional abuse and one was abandoned.
But all are simply the number of reported cases. We could just be seeing the tip of the iceberg.
And what makes it worse, says Minister Forde, is that abuse occurs at the hands of an authority figure who is trusted by children.
Said Forde: “The key people here I am talking about are not the ordinary man who is in the village… We have police officers who are taking advantage of our young children. We have priests, and caregivers and counsellors who know better and because they have not been caught, they get away.”
We all know reasons why abuse continues to exist — poverty, ignorance, the unwillingness of families to seek help and the terrible habit of mothers who accept money from abusers and press their abused children to keep silent.
We can all agree that it takes a village to raise a child. Abuse requires all of us to become more vigilant.
If we witness questionable activity or apparent harm to a child we must report it to ensure no child has to live with the scars of lifetime.
It takes a nation to rid us of this scourge of high crimes against our nation’s children, our silent shame.