Thousands of child abuse cases below radar
About 2,000 to 3,000 reports of child abuse in the country are believed to have gone unreported last year, as the number of child abuse reports continues to plummet in the face of challenges caused by the pandemic.
Before the arrival of the virus in 2020, Jamaica recorded between 12,000 and 14,000 reports of child abuse annually and between 900 and 1,200 reports monthly.
However, preliminary data from the National Children’s Registry show that there were 9,853 reports for 2020 and an average monthly report of 700-800 cases for 2021.
Deputy registrar at the National Children’s Registry, Warren Thompson, while noting that the figure represents a 22 per cent decline over the 2019 figure of 12,674, said the 2020 figure is likely to remain in the 9,000 range when the data are officially processed.
“We have seen a general reduction since the COVID-19, certainly since March 2020,” Thompson said.
Thompson explained that the ongoing shuttering of schools, coupled with other COVID-19 measures that have reduced children’s contact with mandated reporters and concerned citizens, has negatively distorted the real data on child abuse.
“A lot of the reports come from teachers. A lot of reports come from even people at church, concerned citizens who would see children at the youth clubs or other kinds of engagements,” he said.
As such, Thompson stressed that under-reporting continues to be of great concern to the National Children’s Registry.
“Last year and even this year, we are very concerned with the low reports. We aren’t happy with the low reports. In the general sense, we want to live in a country where children are not being abused, so the reports are not coming in but we are very mindful that children are being abused,” he said.
Nonetheless, Thompson said measures have been implemented to address the issue.
He pointed to the launching of the 211 helpline in June, which children and adults are being encouraged to utilise to report abuse.
The 24-hour helpline, he said, could be reached free of cost from all telecommunications service network.
A public education campaign surrounding the new helpline is to be launched today.
“We will be running a national campaign to inform Jamaicans of this new helpline, as we will transition it to be the main helpline for reporting child abuse in Jamaica,” Thompson said.
The registry also set up a WhatsApp number for children to send in reports.
In the meantime, he said child neglect remains the most reported incident. Data show that between January and March this year, 1,222 reports were made, followed by those for children with behavioural problems, 975. Third highest for the same period are sexual abuse reports at 565.