Children’s agencies urge vigilance against child abuse
Three agencies representing the interest of children islandwide are urging extra vigilance on the part of parents and guardians during the summer, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a joint release on Friday, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that parents and community members must become vigilant and protective of children.
The agencies said they were particularly concerned that children now face greater risk of all forms of abuse, including sexual violence, as they spend less supervised or structured time at home, in the community or in the care of adults throughout the summer and due to COVID-19.
“Sexual abuse has always been a pervasive challenge. One in four Jamaican adolescent girls aged 15-19 has experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. With school closures and curfew measures due to COVID-19, children are at heightened risk of being victimised and lacking the support or help they need,” the release stated.
According to the advocates, between January and June 2020, the National Children’s Registry received over 1,000 reports of sexual abuse that have been referred for investigation. While reports dipped significantly in April (82 reports) and May (119 reports) – at a time when reporting was more difficult among COVID-19 restrictions – they rose again in June to 228.
The CPFSA, OCA and UNICEF are appealing for increased alertness by parents, caregivers and community members to help protect children from all forms of abuse. This includes closer monitoring of individuals with whom children spend their time, identifying and speaking out about potentially dangerous situations and reporting known or suspected cases of abuse by calling the police or 888-PROTECT (776 8328).
“Sexual abuse leaves scars that last a lifetime and affect our children into adulthood,” said CEO of the CPFSA, Rosalee Gage-Grey.
“As parents/guardians, we have a duty and responsibility to protect our children. Let us work together to keep them safe and protect them from a lifetime of trauma. We cannot turn a blind eye. Pay attention to how children react around persons and build a solid relationship so that children will feel comfortable talking to you. Every child deserves protection.”
STRONGEST LINE OF DEFENCE
From the perspective of the OCA, the number of sexual abuse cases being reported comes as no surprise, and in fact provides a basis for the heightened attention of the protection of children that Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison has consistently called for from the onset of this global pandemic.
“We need to retool our collective efforts to ensure that preventive measures are boosted and effective services and support are provided to our children, wherever they reside,” said Gordon Harrison.
According to the Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children 2020 – published by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the End Violence Partnership and others – spikes in calls to helplines for child abuse and intimate-partner violence have been observed.
Globally, there are reports of increased violence against children and gender-based violence in the wake of stay-at-home measures, according to UNICEF.
“We know that many children face challenges to access a safe space or the help they need during this difficult period,” said Mariko Kagoshima, UNICEF Jamaica representative.
“It is so critical right now for parents, neighbours and anyone else who cares about children to become their strongest line of defence.”
UNICEF and other United Nations agencies will be intensifying efforts over the coming years to prevent violence against children and women through the Spotlight Initiative – a programme funded by the European Union and will be implemented from 2020 to 2023.
It will focus on addressing family violence as a major public-health and development issue.