Protect Our Children

Protect Our Children
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I sat there stunned. In absolute dismay. Here, sitting down in front of my very eyes, was a 15 year old student who had experienced an extraordinary amount of devastation. More than I had experienced in all of my 25 years of existence. At only 7 years old, her father was gunned down by a close family friend. Shortly after, her mother remarried.

What seemed like a blissful union for her mother was however nothing short of a nightmare for her. Her stepfather began to molest her, and her mother blamed her for causing friction in their relationship when she tried to tell others about the ongoing abuse.
As I tried my best to fight back the tears from listening to the gruesome ordeal which she suffered, I couldn’t help but notice that the whole time we were conversing, this young lady had a huge smile on her face. How could anyone smile while recounting such unimaginable experiences? I pondered this in silence as she continued to relay horror after horror. And then it hit me. This child had become so desensitized to these happenings that they really did not affect her in the same way as they ought to. She had learned to smile through the pain.

 
Despite her outward disposition, I could certainly see where the pain she had suffered was surfacing in every single other area of her life. On plain sight alone, she was completely disheveled from head to toe. She cried daily. She couldn’t write, spell or even do her two times tables. She spoke to animals because she was the source of constant ridicule and bullying from her peers. And, she was constantly fearful. She was especially afraid that someone would come and kill her in the same manner that her father died, or that her stepfather would molest her again.

 
As I tried to offer her comfort, I wondered how many more of our children are suffering behind a smile in the same way as this young girl. The most recent statistics published by the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR) provided me with a very dismal answer. In 2013, 3,386 cases of sexual abuse were reported, as well as 2,912 cases of physical abuse, and 5,310 cases of child neglect. Even more alarming were the bar graphs displayed on the OCR’s website which showed a steady increase year after year in reported incidences of abuse and neglect. In fact, just between 2012 and 2013, there was a 40% increase in reported child abuse. The more I looked, the more infuriated I became.
Who would harm a child? What benefit would someone gain from hurting a child? Where were these abusers residing? Why would anyone want to sexually assault or murder a child? The questions rambled on in my brain. When my thoughts had finally subdued, I proceeded to think about the issue from a more logical standpoint. I stopped thinking about the Who, What, Where and Why questions, and one question remained in my mind. How could we protect our children from these horrendous fates?

 
Providing protection for our children in Jamaica is far from a new phenomenon. Numerous agencies, charities, and professionals all attempt to protect our children every day. Agencies such as the Office of the Children’s Advocacy (OCA), Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) and the Child Development Agency (CDA) are all aimed with the task of preventing child abuse. Whilst I must commend several of their campaigns and projects such as the “Break the Silence” campaign which attempts to get individuals to report cases of child abuse, and the use of the Ananda Alert in order to circulate information about missing children quickly to increase the probability of finding them, I still believe enough is not being done. Evidence for this lies in the mere fact that our rates of child abuse are at an all-time high in Jamaica.

 

 

So, what is the solution? I believe that two things would contribute to the better protection of our children.

These are:
1) educating parents about proper parenting techniques and

2) providing better mental health care access throughout the island for both parents and their children.

 
In regards to educating parents, children spend the majority of time with their parents. There is nothing more dangerous for the development of a child than a “bad” parent. Parents who do not understand how to properly discipline their children, or how to communicate to them in an effective manner can severely harm their children, not only physically but mentally as well. “Bad” or ineffective parenting is a form of child abuse and it can lead to a host of negative consequences for our children, such as: Depression, Aggression/ Hostility or Anxiety. This is why it is crucial for parents to be educated on the dos and don’ts of parenting.

 
Having a better mental health care system would also work to protect our children. If psychological services were better implemented throughout the island, and more affordable to the general public, then parents could seek help for their children, as well as for themselves when they need it. Providing these services are beneficial for a variety of reasons.

 
First, it would provide children with a safe, judgment free environment in which they can express themselves freely. Secondly, psychologists could also psycho-educate parents on better parenting strategies which would essentially minimalize child abuse. For example, psychologists can teach parents how to discipline their children without using extreme punitive measures which are common in Jamaica such as lashings and beatings. Lastly, providing these services would also help with the rehabilitation of children who have already been abused. Currently, many of the children who have been raped, molested or physically harmed have not received counselling. Without proper treatment and care after being abused, children tend to adopt many of the negative consequences already discussed, such as, increased aggressive behaviours.
As a country, we constantly say that “Our children are the future”. Well, if we continue to fail to safeguard and protect our children, what future will Jamaica really have? These changes need to be implemented in order to provide better protection for our children.

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