Editorial | Where do the children go?
Every time there is a ‘missing child’ alert, the entire nation goes into panic mode. The anguish that a child could be in danger and could even be killed is shared by parents, the school community and even complete strangers.
Without even knowing these children, people come together in groups or privately to pray for their safe return into the arms of their families.
These alerts are being posted with regularity these days, and there are plenty of dead bodies to prove that the outcome can be tragic. Last year, more than 1,500 children were reported missing. Of that number, about 200 have not been found. Up to April 30 this year, more than 500 children had been reported missing and only 363 are yet accounted for. Some of these children, as young as seven years old, have turned up dead.
The senseless killing of innocent children has become a huge blot on the face of Jamaica, for it shows the scant regard for life and an intent to destroy the country’s future.
The battle-weary, broken-hearted public, while breathing a sigh of relief, and often witnessing the joyous reunion with family, is nonetheless left with many questions after the authorities simply announce that the child“ is safe and in good health”.
Most of the children disappear en route to school. Did they take the wrong bus? Did they decide to go home with a friend? Was it their intention to run away from home? Did they run off with a man? Are they victims of a cruel custody battle? Did someone lure them away? Is it some prank being played by family members? Were they sold into sex slavery? Have they been taken out of the island? Was the child involved in an accident or shooting?
A multitude of unanswered questions remain in many of these circumstances and the public is left baffled too many times.
The investment of public resources and the emotional hopscotch experienced by communities demand that appropriate explanations are given. We completely understand that these are sensitive matters and ought to be treated with great discretion. But we feel that it is just not enough to say the child is home.
We run the risk of people not treating each alert with the seriousness it deserves, especially if they get the sense that the child will eventually be found and reunited with the family.
We must turn to the matter of educating our children. Counselling is critical to help children recognise when they are in danger and when to seek help. Family members must also devise their own plan and discuss what circumstances should trigger suspicion and encourage their children to report anything untoward.
Parents should also be aware that the Internet is a breeding ground for sexual predators who will seek to befriend young, impressionable children. They should also warn their children that predators are everywhere – in their community, taxi and bus drivers, teachers, pastors, policemen, child protection officers – just about every group has predators in their midst.
Parents and guardians are encouraged to have photographs of their charges so that in the event that they go missing, an alert can be triggered in short order.
Relentless campaigner for children’s rights, Mrs Betty Ann Blaine, has repeatedly called for a special unit to be established in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (to deal with children’s issues. So far, her calls have fallen on deaf ears. She and others have not been impressed with the police’s ability to investigate the growing number of crimes against children.