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Awareness through networking to prevent Child Abuse

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I had the opportunity to attend a rally on April 3rd in celebration of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month, under the theme Awareness through networking to prevent Child Abuse. This was part of a series of programmes held as one way of assisting the Ministry of National Mobilisation with their work. Other activities included various workshops, school visits, radio quizzes and a planned Children’s Fest.##ML:[more]## Indeed, the efforts of the Ministry of National Mobilisation must be commended for their excellent work for yet another year. However, our task is far from completion.

All children have a right to live free from abuse. Every year in St. Vincent and the Grenadines child protection officials help hundreds of ill-treated or neglected children. The reality is that most of these children will carry these scars for the rest of their lives. Who are these perpetrators and savages of our society? The abuser could be anyone, including a parent, family member, babysitter, teacher, clergy, coach, or even a stranger. Sadly, these are persons who were placed in trusted positions, in most instances by parents. It is in this regard that our parents must be vigilant in all circumstances.

Children depend on their parents to love, nurture and protect them. Parents have a duty to provide for the emotional and physical well-being of their children. They are also responsible for controlling and supervising their children.

We have a special duty to help keep our children safe. This will include the work of professionals who care for children, work or volunteer with them, or come into contact with them as part of their work. Some examples are teachers, social workers, police, nurses, coaches, caregivers and the staff of recreational facilities. In many of our communities, the work of the Peace Corps in assisting our nation’s children is commendable.

Healthy environments are essential to the well-being of children and their families. Without the fundamentals of good nutrition and access to health care we cannot hope to prevent child abuse. Children need safe and secure homes, where accidents and injuries are the exception and not the norm. Recently, two children were burnt to death in St. Vincent and the Grenadines where circumstances prove that their deaths may have been prevented had there been better supervision at the time.

Nurturing environments are characterized by caring actions and loving words. The responsibility of putting goals into practice starts with each one of us. It is a common experience to see in the heart of Kingstown, a mother awkwardly dragging her screaming child across the road by the arm, in a situation where the child may just be too tired to walk. Far too often we see many crying toddlers being physically abused in our neighbourhoods in circumstances which lack any degree of sensitivity on behalf of the parent.

Child maltreatment, sometimes referred to as child abuse and neglect, includes all forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, development or dignity. Indeed this is a broad definition and we must ensure that in practice all aspects are fully explored.

Sexual abuse is when a child or young person is pressured, forced or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity with an adult or young person. Over the past days there has been great debate on the charging of nine men for sex with a minor. The nation will be following this matter to its very end.

It will be interesting to research the number of reported physical abuse cases in St. Vincent and the Grenadines by age range of parents. Physical abuse includes hitting, shaking, kicking, punching, scalding, suffocating and other ways of inflicting pain or injury to a child. It also includes giving a child harmful substances, such as drugs or alcohol. There must at all times be a distinction between corporal punishment and physical abuse.

Physical abuse can have long-term effects on a child’s health and development. It can cause physical injury, brain damage or disability and may lead to children developing emotional, behavioural or educational problems. For some children, these difficulties can continue in adulthood. For example, people who were physically abused as children may have problems with personal relationships and they may be more likely to treat their own children abusively.

Emotional abuse is one aspect of abuse which we usually sweep under the carpet. It can range from constant rejection and the denial of affection. This is evident through continual severe criticism, deliberate humiliation and other ways of verbally “terrorising” a child.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Mobilisation, Rosita Snagg, was clear that according to statistics some 380 cases of child abuse were reported in 2008. The government has put several programs in place to ease the plight of abused children.

Some of these programmes include the foster care program, pastoral care program for street children and a commissioned report on the status of children in St Vincent and the Grenadines which is pending completion. The completion of a Crisis Center which will house abused children on a temporary basis will definitely play a critical role in addressing the problem.

We can all play a role in protecting our children from harm by reporting suspicions of abuse. The solution is in networking!

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator.

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