Tue | Jan 18, 2022

Mr PM how are the children doing?

Published:Monday | January 10, 2022 | 12:06 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

It’s a question that requires an urgent and complete response. Since the lockdown of schools almost two years ago, over 400,000 children of school age have essentially dropped off the sociological grid.

Prior to March, 2020, we knew where our children were for 195 days of the year and approximately six hours of every school day. Our country had successfully achieved an 85 per cent rate of school attendance, providing child advocates like ourselves easy access to students, teachers, guidance counsellors, and importantly, access to parents.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the means of contact, leaving us with growing concerns about the welfare and well-being of our youngest citizens.

At the moment, there is no precise data as to the number of school-age children actively attending school, whether remotely or face-to-face.

Reports are now surfacing about students as young as 12 years old who have unofficially dropped out of the formal education system. The children themselves are acknowledging that they are no longer going back to school.

Instead, they are choosing to earn money anyway and anywhere they can – vending, working in shops, wholesale outlets, construction sites, and hustling as “choppas”, among other types of dangerous pursuits.

Others of them are joining the adults in full-time gambling, day and night, including teenage girls, many of whom are on the streets pregnant or walking around with babies on their sides.

Then there is the open and unfettered availability and use of marijuana by the declared school drop-outs, some barely emerging from puberty.

The virtual full-time relegation of children to their homes and communities has left many of them exponentially vulnerable to all types of abuses. Reports of increased sexual abuse in particular, by doctors and hospitals, are alarming. The number of those reported missing remain consistently high.

The reality is that our Jamaican children are now more at risk than perhaps ever before.

So Mr Prime Minister, I humbly request that the question, “How Are the Children Doing?” be placed on the top of the agenda of your weekly Cabinet meetings, for clarity, direction and action.

BETTY ANN BLAINE

Child Advocate

Founder, Hear The

Children’s Cry