Violence against children services for communities

Finding ways to alternative discipline for children

By Pragmatis
11 February 2020

Awareness starts in the public domain” declares passionate child rights activist, Colin Marks who spearheads Help and Shelter’s crucial movement to end Violence Against Children (VAC). The organization’s team of enthused human rights activists have partnered with UNICEF and vested social groups to model and implement a two-phase project aimed at eliminating all forms of Violence Against Children. This is done through education and awareness programmes across the 10 regions of Guyana. With sustained effort and commitment, the first phase of the project was successfully completed and the team is now positioned to commence implementation of the final phase, in the months ahead.

To bring about public awareness, Marks relives his experiences in selected communities during the first phase, which focused on developing multi-sectoral groups and promoting protocols to target issues of parenting, neglect and abuse. He also provides insight into phase two of the project. Hosting a VAC Seminar in Region 3, Marks recollects asking parents and caregivers, “How many of you speak to your children?” They all raised their hands in the affirmative.  However, when he asked the question, “How many of you speak with your children?”, according to him, “Their hands didn’t go up.”

Marks like other child rights activists, firmly believes that children are great communicators and should be given the opportunity to have a say in decisions impacting their lives. A child needs their nurturer to speak with them and to listen when they speak; this builds character and self-confidence, and it also mitigates the use of physical violence in instances of miscommunication. Open dialogue, between parent/caregiver and the child is a proven alternative to the use of corporal punishment within our society.

Regions 10, 4 and 3, particularly, have households found to engage in higher instances of corporal punishment. Marks’ tale of a single mother attending another of the VAC awareness seminars: “The mother,” he says, “works six days per week, and she really only has time to leave instructions concerning household chores before running out to work.

She often finds when she returns the chores aren’t completed, and she whips the children for their delinquency.” The children were despondent and often sat some distance away from her fearful that their actions may provoke her. However, after two weeks of attending the seminar, he noted improvements in the parent-child relationship; nearing the seminar’s completion, the children began to cling to and hug their mother. “The impact was tremendous!” he says, relaying his feelings of gratification in knowing the team’s labour was not in vain.

Another area where UNICEF’s support is playing a vital role is that of child sexual abuse. For the team at Help and Shelter, child sexual abuse cases are sensitive issues discussed in a protected environment: one that upholds the ethics surrounding the issue. UNICEF provides guidance on use of a child friendly approach in conducting investigations and the assigned case operatives are trained social workers. The efforts of UNICEF, Help and Shelter and other child protection bodies are endless; and the work is ongoing.

In cases of child sexual abuse, nearly 60 percent of perpetrators are known to the victims: they are family members or family friends. This can be linked to the lack of full disclosure by some victims. Like in many countries across the world, there are communities within our country where abusers are protected by a “hush culture”. This thankfully, due to education and awareness, is not at all times the circumstance. In fact, there has been an increase in disclosure among males. The testimonies of victims have enabled the prosecution of abusers and Marks encourages this practice as child sexual abuse amongst males is widely believed to be underreported. In March of 2019, a scholar was sentenced to 45 years in jail for Statutory Rape of a Minor.

Abuse, Marks reminds us, can be taught: “people who have been sexually abused are likely to become abusers themselves,” he says. Hence the work done to address child sexual abuse has to remain continuous and widespread.

All Violence Against Children can be curtailed by the sheer weight of our response to it. “The community will see us, and they will know that we have their best interest at heart and are fighting for our children and families,” says Marks.

Additionally, he explains that for the final phase of the project, the team is working incessantly to liaise with policing bodies to improve the overall surveillance of VAC across the country; possibly increasing the number of training activities geared towards filling the gaps. There are gaps to be filled and they must be filled: all forms of Violence Against Children must end.

Stakeholders are key to this dynamic; the police and legislators/jurisdictional bodies, UNICEF, NGOs and you. All stakeholders have largely responded positively to the project because education and awareness works. Guyanese, “Make a choice! Make the choice to become a part of the solution; work with us, being a bystander is not enough. Make the dream a reality.”   Marks’ reminder to us: “It is absolutely possible! And remember our hotlines are always open… And they will remain so.