Child abuse cases skyrocket

Published: Wednesday | May 27, 2009

There has been a massive increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse in Jamaica, the Office of the Children's Registry has revealed.

Preliminary data indicate that with seven months left in 2009, reports to the registry are closing in on the total for all of last year. There have been close to 3,000 reports of child abuse so far in 2009, compared with 3,784 last year. The 2008 figure was a dramatic increase over the 2007 figure of 425 reports.

However, the increases do not necessarily signal a rise in the incidence of child abuse but might reflect an increased willingness by Jamaicans to blow the cover on offending parties.

"We have been meeting with stakeholders and making them aware of their legal responsibility to report, if they know or suspect that a child is being abused, and probably persons are just recognising that it is their civic responsibility and that we all have a part to play in protecting the nation's children," said Carla Edie, registrar at the Office of the Children's Registry.

Increase efficiency

The surge in reports has prompted the agency to increase its efficiency in tracking data related to child abuse by introducing a case management system and engaging the services of statisticians. Edie told the Jamaica Information Service the statis-ticians will help the agency analyse data and make projections.

"Based on the information that we get, we will be able to identify trends, what kinds of services are needed to address the issues facing the children and their families," she elaborated.

Employment of statisticians will also be accompanied by the introduction of a case management system, which will organise the reports and updates that the registry receives.

"So if somebody calls to say 'How many children in the year 2008, between the ages five to six, were sexually abused?' very easily we'll be able to generate that kind of information," she said.

The Office of the Children's Registry has been in existence since January 1, 2007. It was established to receive, record and store data on the maltreatment of Jamaica's children, in keeping with the Child Care and Protection Act. The act, passed by Parliament in 2004, places responsibility on all Jamaicans to report all types of child abuse, whether suspected or already happening. A person can be fined $500,000 or sentenced to six months' imprisonment, or both, for failing to make a report.

Edie said many of the cases probed by the registry have been due to mandatory reporters. These are persons who, because of their profession, are particularly required, by law, to report child abuse. This group includes physicians, nurses, dentists, other health professionals, hospital administrators, operators and employees of day-care centres, guidance counsellors, teachers and school principals. Of the 3,784 reports for 2008, roughly 2,000 were made by prescribed reporters.

Most common complaints

Incidents of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, incest and neglect are among the most common complaints.

"There are also those children who are in need of care and protection. Children who have parents, but their parents are unfit. The children are probably falling into bad associations, which means that they are probably becoming a part of gangs. Children who exhibit behavioural problems, so their parents have reached a point where they can no longer control them," the registrar said.

Edie says most of the reports received are from Kingston and St Andrew, though she did not provide specific data.

While the registry receives reports and records them, it does not carry out investigations. Reports are usually referred to one of two service partners - the Office of the Children's Advocate or the Child Development Agency.

The registrar said she is convinced that the number of reported incest cases are far below the true level of occurrence in Jamaica.

"Persons never want to 'disgrace' the family, so it's kept a secret and people suffer sometimes for years under that kind of abuse," she said. She added that incest in some communities was prevalent.

Just over a week ago, The Gleaner broke an exclusive story about three of four sisters who have taken their dad to court for years of alleged sexual abuse. Some of the incidents date back more than four decades ago.

Contact information

Reports can be made to the Registry by calling 1-888-PROTECT or 908-2132 or 878-2882 or 822-7031, Mondays to Sundays, between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Reporting forms are also available at the Children's Registry or CDA offices islandwide, which persons can fill out and submit to the Office of the Children's Registry at 12 Carlton Crescent, Kingston 10. These reports can also be faxed to 908-2579 or emailed to