Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Urgent action needed to protect our children

Published:Thursday | March 12, 2015 | 3:00 AM

Over the past decade or so, more than 1,600 of our children have been killed in Jamaica. The monument erected in 2008 in downtown Kingston shows evidence of the misfortune of children - many of whose lives were taken in violent circumstances and robbed of an opportunity to make an indelible mark on our country. I passed the monument on a recent visit downtown and was most terrified to see there was hardly space for more names. An even larger number of our children have been the victims of one or more forms of abuse. The occurrence and barbarity of these incidents against children seem to be increasing (unabated?).

The situation begs the question: How many more names and how many more reports of violence and abuse do we need to hear and see to be jolted into some kind of action?

Just last week, 14-year-old Kayalicia Simpson was chopped to death in the early morning while getting ready for school. In another incident, a man set a house ablaze which claimed the lives of three children. Earlier this week, reports surfaced about a child with mental illness whose parent(s) inhumanely subjected her to live under the cellar of their house.

How grotesque! I can only begin to imagine how devastated their loved ones are.

 

fierce urgency

 

How much more gruesome do these reports have to be for us to recognise the fierce urgency with which we must, as a nation, take steps to make Jamaica a safer place for all us, including and especially for our children? Should we not all play our part in advancing the welfare of children and nation by taking a stand against violence, and call on our leaders to be decisive and take necessary and appropriate actions to protect our children and secure justice for them?

I imagine this is the thinking behind the report in this paper that the Children's Advocate is probing allegations of sexual abuse of our children by "deacons, elders and prayer warriors". I am sure Mrs Gordon Harrison, like many of us, is horrified by these reports and wants to use her agency to help our children.

The Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) reports that between 2007 and 2013, nearly 50,000 - a total of 44,782 - reports were made pertaining to 'children who were alleged victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, trafficking or child labour [and] children who were reported to exhibit behavioural problems or who were otherwise in need of care and protection' (OCR). Ten thousand three hundred and eighty seven (10,387) of these related to sexual abuse (and there is still a great deal of under-reporting!) - 93 per cent of which were perpetrated against girls.

Notwithstanding, I can't help but ask if the Children's Advocate is supposed to be investigating complaints about sexual abuse of children by private citizens or ensuring that competent entities such as the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) and Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) are handling all matters relating to such probes?

 

commendable progress

 

In 2006, The Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) was established under Section 4 (1) of the Child Care and Protection Act (2004) as a Commission of Parliament to protect and enforce the rights of children and ensure that decisions are made in their best interest. This was a bold and commendable move and a strong demonstration of our prioritising children's rights and taking steps to safeguard the rights of our children.

The Children's Advocate is therefore responsible for, inter alia, the following: provide children with legal representation (if they have none); make policy recommendations; sensitise children about their rights; 'review the adequacy and effectiveness of laws and practices in the best interest of the children;' probe complaints made against government entities by and on behalf of children; and assess the satisfactoriness of the services provided for children by relevant authorities. More information about their roles and functions can be found on their website here: http://goo.gl/SPXTBz

It seems clear to me that investigating a complaint about sexual abuse of children by clergy is not (necessarily?) OCA's function but CISOCA's - a competent entity the Government has invested millions of dollars in strengthening. Their remit seems to be in ensuring the State and its relevant authorities protect and promote the rights and best interest of the child. Is my interpretation of OCA's role and function misconstrued?

It would be good if there is some clarity about the OCA's roles and function in these matters and those related to, for example, children who are running away from places of safety.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.