Hanna: Our society has lost its soul
Youth Minister Lisa Hanna has challenged Jamaicans to be more involved in the fight to stamp out instances of violence and sexual abuse against children, stating that efforts to positively impact the lives of the country's young will amount to zero "if parents and communities don't wake up and speak up".
"The time has come to get connected to the truth about what is really hurting our children in this country. The practice of keeping silent and not giving the evidence to convict the perpetrators who abuse them must stop," Hanna said.
The minister, who was making her contribution to the 2015-2016 Sectoral Debate yesterday, said the police, for example, have been hampered in their attempts to tackle human trafficking, noting that despite seven arrests for child trafficking, the State has been unable to secure a conviction because people were unwilling to come forward with statements.
"Acts of violence against the nation's children cannot be condoned," Hanna said, adding that "incidents of murder, physical and sexual abuse that we have seen are symptomatic of a society that has lost his soul".
At least 24 children have been murdered since the start of the year, and many are thought to have been victims of sexual abuse. Hanna told legislators that the Government was committed to using every tool at its disposal to protect the children and youth from abuse.
"Where the rights of children are infringed, perpetrators will be punished in accordance with our laws," she said.
Hanna added: "The society must come to the realisation that the protection of our children is not the responsibility of any one person, ministry or group. The protection of our children is our duty - all of us."
NEED TO TACKLE VIOLENCE
Hanna told Parliament that when she led a delegation to Switzerland earlier this year, the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child expressed its desire for Jamaica to deal with the impact of violence on children, especially physical and sexual violence.
"We are not a country at war or have the kinds of conflicts we see in some other places," Hanna said before going on to pose searching questions to the society.
"We have a problem," she said.
"How does a mother know her child is being abused and says nothing? How does a mother have an 11-year-old girl pregnant in her house and not know? How does a community say they suspected a child was being abused only after the same child has been murdered, and when the time comes to make a statement to the police for a conviction they say and do nothing? How does someone deliberately set fire to a house knowing that three children are inside?" the minister asked.
She told fellow legislators that she had been informed by clinical psychologists that many of the devious behaviours seen in the society today were the result of the generational breakdown of the family structure - single parenting, multiple partners, a family history of mental health, incarceration, and adverse childhood experiences, among others.
Hanna said every piece of legislation is in place to protect the nation's children, adding that "the budgets are in place, and we have the sanctions, and will be strengthening them according to the call from the prime minister".
"I know that we are tempted to go for the easy fix, and point a finger at the scourge of poverty, and while the conditions that are bred from poverty are presented in most of the cases that come before us, the truth is that the answers we seek lie in each and every one of us and the choices we make," Hanna said.