Saturday 15 August, 2020

Amid summer holidays, agencies bat for efforts to prevent child abuse

Concerned about the safety of children amid the COVID-19 crisis and the advent of summer holidays, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are urging parents and community members to be more vigilant and protective of children.

The agencies are 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 other 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 victimized and lacking the support or help they need.

Between January-June 2020, the National Children’s Registry has 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 reports.

The CPFSA, OCA and UNICEF are appealing for increased vigilance 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, Mrs. 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.”   

From the perspective of the Office of the Children’s Advocate, this comes as no surprise and in fact provides a basis for the heightened attention to the protection of children that Children’s Advocate, Diahann Gordon Harrison has consistently called for from the onset of this pandemic. She said, “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.”

“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 defense.”

Globally, there are reports of increased violence against children and gender-based violence in the wake of stay-at-home measures. According to the Global Status Report on Preventing Violence against Children 2020 – published by UNICEF, WHO, the End Violence Partnership and others – spikes in calls to helplines for child abuse and intimate partner violence have been observed.

In Jamaica, UNICEF and other UN agencies will be intensifying efforts over the coming years to prevent violence against children and women through the Spotlight Initiative. Funded by the European Union, the Spotlight Initiative will be implemented from 2020 to 2023 and will focus on addressing family violence as a major public health and development issue.

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