Painful but not surprising data on child abuse

Friday, July 06, 2018

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It was quite painful listening to the cases of sexual and other abuse of children reported last week by Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

However, it grieves us to say that we were not startled, because just over a year ago this newspaper and other media houses reported jolting data on this unending scourge provided by the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR).

At the time, OCR Registrar Mr Greig Smith told us that close to 70,000 cases of child abuse were reported in Jamaica over eight years, from 2007, and that preliminary figures showed a troubling increase in the number of cases reported in 2015.

According to Mr Smith, the 13,948 reports received in 2015 represented an increase of close to 19 per cent over the previous year.

He said that of the reports received, 9,883 represented children who were being reported to the OCR for the first time. Of that number, 55 per cent were girls, 43 per cent were boys. The gender for the remaining two per cent was not specified.

“Unlike the previous year, where there was a decline in the number of 'first reports' observed, there was a 15 per cent increase in the number of new cases received in 2015,” Mr Smith said at a function in April to launch the 2017 observation of Child Month.

Neglect, he said, continued to be the most common report received by the OCR over the years. “Fifty-one per cent of the total reports made to the OCR in 2015 had elements of neglect. The other categories which featured high percentages were children in need of care and protection (41 per cent), those who exhibited behavioural problems (35 per cent) and children who were sexually abused (27 per cent),” he said.

The information shared last week at a forum co-hosted by JFJ, UNICEF and the Caribbean Policy Research Institute featured suicidal attempts and physical abuse.

Mr Rodje Malcolm, the JFJ executive director, was reported as saying that the study has so far found that sexual abuse or activity between wards of the State was the most common type of abuse among both males and females.

Female wards, we were also told, experienced the majority of sexual abuse by staff, whereas male wards were the subjects of the majority of incidents involving other wards, whether male or female.

Mr Malcolm further reported that the most common threats to the wards' well-being and safety were physical abuse by other wards or workers, as well as fights.

We agree with his suggestion that reducing the number of children in institutions would help to diminish the incidence of sexual abuse. At the same time, we believe that continued strengthening of parenting skills, as well as the development of a culture of reporting abuse can contribute to fewer children being subjected to this type of harm.

Generally, most Jamaicans hold the view that children need to be protected. However, the data presented by the OCR last year, as well as the JFJ/UNICEF study last week, tell us that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that many more people hold to that ideal.

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