Child abuse: the number one threat to Caribbean childhood
Belize City, Bridgetown, Georgetown, Kingston, Port of Spain, 19 November, 2007 - UNICEF Offices in the Caribbean today called for policy makers to make a concerted effort to end the scourge of child abuse. The call came as countries across the world recognize 19th November as the International Day against the Prevention of Child Abuse.
Noting that the willful abuse of children ranks as one of the biggest threats to childhood in the Caribbean, the UNICEF Offices also stressed that in recent times child abuse has become increasingly worse - in line with the rising levels of violence and social problems in some countries.
In Guyana, according to the “Voices of Children” Report (2005) 86% of 14– 7 year old girls, 50% of 10–13 year old girls and 6% of 6-9 year old girls have been sexually harassed. In Jamaica in 2006, out of a total of 1,389 reported sexual offences, close to a third were committed on children younger than 16. Women and girls remain silent victims of most major crimes in Jamaica as only 20 per cent of rapes get reported to the Police.
In the Eastern Caribbean a nine country survey of Caribbean school age children found that about 11% girls and 9% of boys reported that they had been sexually abused including through incest. In the same survey, 40% of the girls reported they had their first sexual experience forced upon them. –Twenty percent of adolescent girls in Jamaica reported the same.
The increasing violence in the Caribbean takes a high toll on its children. In Jamaica for example, over the last two years close to 100 children were murdered each year. Data from the Belize report “The Impact of Crime and Violence of Children and Adolescents (2005)” indicate that children and adolescents continue to be a major target for crime and violence where 37% of boys and 43% of girls felt unsafe in their communities.
The UNICEF Offices in the Caribbean are also concerned that the prevention of abuse and the protection of children's rights are not being accorded high enough priority or viewed with the urgency that this scourge requires. Abusers are often treated with impunity or receive light sentences, disproportionate to the level of the offence and the long lasting impact on the victim. Where laws exist for the protection of children, these are not being properly enforced, implicitly signaling to perpetrators that there is nothing unusual about trampling on the rights of children by committing vicious acts of physical or sexual abuse. Date from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (2002 -2005) in Belize supports this argument, showing that for all cases of Sexual Offences committed against children and women 22% result in convictions, 28% in acquittals and 50 % in dropped cases due to lack of evidence. It is time to realize that the consequences of maltreatment are manifested not only in the child's inability to succeed in life but also in the socio-economic development of an entire country. No country can achieve a satisfactory level of development until it has tamed wide scale abuse of children.
Although concerned about the problem, the organization however, commended the efforts being taken by some Caribbean countries to take action against child abuse, often with the support of UNICEF. The enactment and wide dissemination of the Families and Child Act and Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Regulation in Belize, the Child Care and Protection Act in Jamaica; the finalization of a Children’s Bill and the recent commencement of consultations for revision of the Sexual Offenders Act in Guyana; the development of national Child Abuse Reporting and Management Protocols in Grenada, Dominica and in St. Vincent and the
Grenadines, along with similar processes being undertaken in Barbados and in St. Kitts and Nevis are all steps in a positive direction. More however must be done.
As we recognize the International Day on Prevention of Child Abuse, the offices of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the Caribbean call on governments and civil society organization to upscale their actions to prevent child abuse and create a protective environment for children across the region.
In particular, they call on:
UNICEF also very strongly and specifically reiterates previous calls on gang leaders to leave children out of their cycle of killings and reprisals, and to cease from recruiting children into criminal activities.
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