Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Jean-Claude Walters Dunn | As a society, we are failing our children

Published:Sunday | May 9, 2021 | 12:20 AM
Jean-Claude Walters Dunn
Jean-Claude Walters Dunn

In this 2008 photograph a protester holds up a poster of Ananda Dean, a 11-year-old who was sexually abused and killed. Violence against children is a major concern in Jamaica, with critics saying that the country has failed the children and much more nee
In this 2008 photograph a protester holds up a poster of Ananda Dean, a 11-year-old who was sexually abused and killed. Violence against children is a major concern in Jamaica, with critics saying that the country has failed the children and much more needs to be done to make the children safe.
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In Jamaica, the month of May is celebrated as Child Month. Therefore, one can expect an increase in the visibility of local children-advocacy efforts and mainstream media’s general focus on children rights and the issues affecting their growth and development. Notably, the theme for Child Month 2021 is I-S.O.A.R (Strive to Overcome Adversities with Resilience). The month was officially launched on Sunday May 2, with a church service hosted by the National Child Month Committee. There are a variety of activities planned for the month which are geared towards engaging our children and raising awareness about different dynamics such as: managing mental health and staying safe in the digital environment. These efforts must be commended and undoubtedly there is value to be gained from this initiative. However, it must be highlighted that as a society we are failing our children.

“Thirteen-year-old girl buggered by five persons in St Ann,” and “12-year-old girl allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted by couple,” are just two examples of the atrocities being committed against our children. Imagine the physical, mental and emotional trauma that our children are being subjected to on a daily basis. Put yourself in the feet of a growing child and think about how it feels to be violated and abused by those you love and trust. I charge you to imagine the feelings of discomfort, anxiety, hopelessness and helplessness experienced by our children who are silently suffering by the hands of inhumane psychopaths. Now, compound that with the impact of the general lack of compassion and empathy so often displayed by our society towards these victims. For some of us, we need not imagine, because we know what it feels like. As a society we are failing our children.

Expectedly, many persons will attempt to exempt themselves from this general classification of ‘society.’ Many believe that if they are not the direct perpetrators, then they have no active role in contributing to this social epidemic plaguing our nation. In this very moment you might ask “how have I failed our children?” In response to that, the simple truth is that every time you turn a blind eye to an instance of abuse or you discriminate against a victim, you are inadvertently enabling and contributing to child abuse. This is not to say that factors such as poverty and illiteracy aren’t major contributors to child abuse, but the general attitude of society towards the issue plays a significant role in its pervasiveness.

CHILD ABUSE CASES

“Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders,” is a phrase commonly used to underscore the importance of our children. But what can we expect from tomorrow’s leaders if we allow them to be abused today? According to a baseline survey commissioned under the National Children Registry, only a small minority of the general population has actually made the effort to report known cases of child abuse. Furthermore, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) has highlighted that since coronavirus hit us, there has been a significant reduction in the overall reports of child abuse. This can be credited to the limited involvement of institutional workers in the daily lives of our children – an unfortunate result of the various restrictions implemented to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19. Despite being aware of instances of child abuse, many persons believe that “it is not their business to make such a report.” Also, there is a general lack of trust in the system of reporting. This implies that now, more than ever, thousands of our children are at risk of exploitation and neglect.

With that being said, the more important question is, “What can I do to stand up for our children and help them overcome their adversities?” Firstly, you must understand that abuse has many different faces. Being able to recognize the different forms of abuse – whether physical, verbal, sexual, mental, or otherwise – is the first step. Subsequently, if you recognize that a child might be suffering from any type of abuse, it is important to not only make the effort to notify the necessary authorities, but to also empathise with the child. Take care in trying to understand the situation from the child’s perspective and offer comfort and reassurance that he or she is not responsible for the abuse. If you are a parent, be mindful of the impact of your actions. Make it your priority to understand your child and be more aware of and open-minded about the factors influencing their behaviour.

Regardless of what you may believe, you have a responsibility to protect our children. “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future,” and by protecting our children, you are protecting the future of Jamaica.

The simple act of reporting a case of child abuse can go a very long way. To make a report, you can contact the Children’s Registry by calling 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8328) or via email at report@ocr.gov.jm

Jean-Claude Walters Dunn is the outgoing Youth Mayor of Kingston, and a graduate of Wolmer’s Boys’ High School. He is an advocate for the creative arts and is the lead project manager at ZRISE Jamaica – a global community of Jamaican creatives. To send feedback, he can be contacted at 1jeanclauded9@gmail.com.