The importance of reporting child abuse: Call 211Sunday, September 26, 2021
Robert Nesta Morgan
When I became minister with responsibility for youth within the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, I took a keen interest in learning about how our children are treated within schools, State facilities, communities, and at home. Being a father, this responsibility made me more interested in trying to change what was and still is a chronic situation as it relates to child abuse.
Every Monday morning, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) briefs me on the incidents and actions we are taking to tackle child abuse. The situation is alarming and many Jamaicans are unaware of how it affects society. It was, therefore, important for me to engage with other stakeholders within the relevant agencies of the ministry as well as external partners to brainstorm better ways to report and address child abuse.
Child abuse can present itself in several ways, these include sexual, emotional, or physical abuse, as well as neglect and trafficking. Almost 10,000 cases of child abuse were reported in Jamaica in 2020 and over 5,500 reports since the start of 2021. This shows that child abuse remains a chronic problem in Jamaica and calls for immediate strong intervention.
The CPFSA receives an average of 900 reports of child abuse each month. This figure is even more alarming when coupled with the fact that many cases go unreported.
With more children at home spending time with family and family friends because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the risk of abuse is even higher. In fact, the CPFSA has noted a significant increase in child sexual abuse and neglect during this period.
Child abuse does not stop at the incident, but it invites other issues into the picture. Child psychologist Dr Kai Morgan tells us that child abuse has a direct link to learning issues, substance abuse and psychological trauma which can lead to the development of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension later on in life. This means that the scars from child abuse are not only long-lasting for the individual but can affect how they interact with society throughout their lifetime. Therefore, the protection of our children remains a crucial task and requires action now.
The impact of child abuse on any child can result in low self-esteem, increased fear, guilt and self-blame, and distrust of adults or difficulty forming relationships. Other effects can include disrupted attachments with those who are meant to keep them safe, mental health disorders such as anxiety, attachment, post-traumatic stress and depression disorders, and these are just naming a few.
It is no surprise then that if you study our youth who display behavioural issues or adults who turn to criminal activity, you may find patterns of child abuse in their upbringing. Across all areas of society, whether inner city, middle class, rural or uptown, you will find that many children have been victims of child abuse and some grow up to become perpetrators of crime and violence and abusers themselves. This means that, in many cases, we have created and “nurtured” the social issues we face today. Children are born as blank slates and learn by interacting with the environment.
You will find in many of our communities cases of juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, school drop-out and a myriad of other social ills prevalent among our youth. In essence, the evidence is showing that our children and youth have been in crisis for a long time.
This is why I call it an epidemic — because as the numbers increase, the more child abuse and all its effects will continue replicate. We must stop it.
Every child deserves to grow up in a safe environment, free from abuse and mistreatment. The Ministry of Education, Youth & Information, along with the CPFSA, has been working on solutions to help support victims and to get this epidemic of child abuse under control.
Our children are being abused by people who should be protecting them, so they must be able to self-report. They must be empowered to help us identify these perpetrators and hold them accountable.
Myself and Minister Fayval Williams' passion for the care and safety of our nation's children will be manifested in the actions we take to protect, nurture and educate them.
As a father and citizen of Jamaica, the creation of the 211 Child Abuse Reporting Hotline is very important to me. As a legislator, it signals the strength of the Government in formulating strategies to confront some of our most testing problems.
There have been other programmes in the past for child abuse prevention and reporting, but the 211 hotline allows anyone, even children, to confidentially pick up the phone and dial a simple number with 24-hour access for free.
We are investing in our children and youth by building out the ecosystem for Jamaica's first three-digit 24-hour helpline for child abuse, with a monitoring mechanism in place to ensure it remains effective. While the hotline was created to address child abuse, we cannot ignore the mental, physical and emotional toll our children endure from other social issues. Therefore, the 211 hotline is interconnected with other agencies to provide a wide range of services to secure the well-being of our nation's children.
We have made reporting child abuse easier for anyone who has experienced child abuse or is a witness of child abuse. We cannot continue to fail our children like this. I am encouraging all Jamaicans to please report any form of child abuse that they have witnessed or heard about so the matter can be investigated.
It is the duty of every Jamaican to help, protect and safeguard the well-being of our children. I appeal to my country, my Jamaican brothers and sisters, if you know or suspect a child is being abused, do not hesitate to report it. Your identity will remain anonymous, and the call is free across all networks.
Report child abuse, call 211.
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