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Morgan urges vetting for persons dealing with children

Published:Friday | October 29, 2021 | 12:10 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
Minister of State Robert Morgan addressing the launch of the Optimist International Caribbean District flagship project, ‘Mentorship for At-risk Youth’, at the YMCA in St Andrew on Wednesday.
Minister of State Robert Morgan addressing the launch of the Optimist International Caribbean District flagship project, ‘Mentorship for At-risk Youth’, at the YMCA in St Andrew on Wednesday.

Youth State Minister Robert Morgan believes that there is a need for more stringent vetting procedures and background checks to be made by members of the society to limit exposing children to harm from unsuspecting persons in power.

He was speaking with The Gleaner on Wednesday in the wake of a deadly religious ritual unfolding at the Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries in Montego Bay, St James, last week, at which some 14 children were present.

It also comes against a disclosure by the police that the pastor, Kevin O.Smith, had been convicted of sexual assault of a 21-year-old male in Canada.

A number of pastors are also facing charges of sexual abuse in local courts.

“I think it is very important to always have accountability in a system,” said Morgan, who said that he was aware of a large number of churches which have voiced strong opinions on the deadly proceedings at the St James church last week.

However, he added that, without sufficient evidence, judgement cannot be made as to what actually took place regarding the children who were rescued from the church and placed in state care.

“We are waiting on the interviews to see what’s the situation with those children, but it is always important that in every system we have accountability,” said Morgan, noting that humans were not infallible.

This, however, he said, was no excuse for people to abuse children.

“Majority of the religious leaders in our society are not paedophiles. They are not sexual abusers but, like in every other section of society, there are persons in there with nefarious intentions,” the junior youth minister told The Gleaner.

“There are persons who may use the church or the police force or the school as a kind of haven to perpetuate their nastiness,” said Morgan.

“There is a big concern about vetting of persons who are in touch with children and who are perceived to have authority over children,” he said, adding that he believes that his ministry has done well in conducting background checks in the education sector.

He confessed, however, that sometimes it can be challenging, especially the Constitution guaranteeing the freedom of assembly and freedom of conscience and religion. As parents cannot be reprimanded for taking their children to church, Morgan says the Government will soon have to begin surveillance of persons who are in contact with children, to guarantee their protection.

Morgan was attending the launch of Optimist International Caribbean District’s flagship project, Mentorship for at-risk Youth, at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Kingston on Wednesday, where he also disclosed that there have been more than 6,000 calls to a 211 child abuse reporting hotline launched in September.

“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback about the helpline. I think the people welcome it,” Morgan said of the 24-hour hotline which was created to make it easier for children to self-report and for members of the public to alert the Child Protection and Family Services Agency to cases of abuse.

“The hotline is not perfect,” Morgan acknowledged, however, noting that it requires stronger support to boost its effectiveness.

He added that his team will be working even harder to improve and strengthen the helpline’s operation.

Pointing out that much of the groundwork was laid to extending these efforts over the years, he lamented that many children continue to be held in vulnerable and confined spaces with adults who are not educated on their roles and responsibilities in interacting with children.

“So, my role and the role of the Government is to not just apply punitive sanctions and punishment,” he explained to The Gleaner, adding that new and effective strategies to educate parents and citizens on how to deal with children were needed.

The National Children’s Registry reports 9,887 reports made in 2020. For the period of January to June of this year, 5 564 reports of child abuse have been made.