Director of the Child Care Board, Roseann Richards, pinning a blue ribbon on Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey, today. The ribbon is being used to raise awareness against the scourge of child abuse. (GP)

Persons who are aware of situations where children are being abused are urged to report such incidents to the Child Care Board and, or the police immediately.

This was one of the main messages highlighted today, as Barbados marked its inaugural Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, which runs from April 1 to 30, under the theme Speak Up, Speak Out, Report Child Abuse.

Speaking during a press briefing to start the month of activities, Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey, said: “The reality is that for many of us, we would have heard in many cases of people saying that a child has been abused. ‘I know that has been happening’, or ‘we know that woman has been doing this’, or ‘we know that father has been doing this’, or ‘that uncle was doing that for a long time’.”

But, he charged, knowing and not saying anything, made a person equally culpable for the harsh realities children faced.

However, the Minister indicated that his Ministry was presently working closely with UNICEF to create a legislative framework to make it necessary to not only view child abuse as wrong, but to make the reporting of such acts mandatory.

“This is where we have to go….  It is to make sure we get to a point where reporting of child abuse is no longer optional. You no longer have the right to say, ‘I know it had happened, but I didn’t feel like talking about it’,” he said.

He added that he hoped such changes would also become a part of the Child Protection Act, which should be laid in Parliament before the end of the year.

The Minister further noted that a Child Justice Bill was now in draft, and is expected to give a more comprehensive understanding of child protection in Barbados.

However, he underscored the need to look beyond legislation, and to focus on the judiciary system and the court structure. “We proposed in the legislation a family court.  If it is going to be a regular court or a court specifically for children is something that has to be finalised.  There has to be a court that allows these things to be dealt with,” he stressed, noting that time was a critical factor.

During his address, Mr. Humphrey said there were 529 reported cases of child abuse in 2019, of which 22.8 per cent were physical and 21.5 per cent sexual.  This, compares with 2021, when 489 cases were reported, of which 23 per cent were physical and 22 per cent sexual.

However, he noted that this year’s figures for January and February reflected a trend of neglect emerging, which he warned could also invariably lead to other forms of abuse.

Those figures indicate that in January 41 cases of abuse were recorded, of which 12 were for physical abuse, 10 sexual, and 18 cases of neglect.  Then in February, there were 42 cases, of which 12 were for physical abuse, six sexual and 23 cases of neglect.

“This does not speak very well for Barbados….  Some may argue that it is a good thing that the numbers are not increasing, but the numbers are not decreasing either,” he lamented, noting that school closures as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns compounded the situation.

The Minister also gave his word that Government would do all in its power to protect children at all costs and ensure that their care was not compromised.

The move to make it mandatory to report cases of child abuse was also supported by UNICEF Representative to Barbados, Dr. Aloys Kamuragiye, who lamented that there were too many cases of child abuse in Barbados, and not all were reported.

“We need to do something about it,” he stressed. The initiative received strong support from the UNICEF representative and Deputy Chairman of the Child Care Board, Dr. Carol Jacobs.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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