NOVEMBER 20 is an important day as it is the day in 1959 when the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The annual commemoration of this date is a useful entry point to advocate and advance children’s rights, hopefully translating into action that will build a better world for children. We join the rest of the world in reaffirming the rights of the child mindful of the extent of the challenges. Last week’s release of sobering statistics showing increases in reports of child harm has given a renewed impetus for action.
The Police Service’s Child Protection Unit is right to be concerned about the 59 per cent spike in offences against minors. But when it comes to protecting our children the police should be the last port of call.
The tragic case of Amy Leslie James, a 19-year-old mother of two who was subject to child abuse twice according to close relatives, has triggered much discussion on social media about the responsibility of parents, communities and the State.
James’ tragic case is subject to investigation by law enforcement authorities, but the account of her life given by her mother is a graphic reminder of the domino effect one violation can have on an entire family, and even across generations.
It is this inter-generational harm that proves the most intractable of all the consequences of failing our children. Trauma from child abuse and other forms of violations finds expression in myriad ways.
At the same time there is no gainsaying that over the last decade considerable progress has been made. Legislation outlawing the archaic practice of child marriage was passed. The laws giving considerable powers to the Children’s Authority were proclaimed. Special family courts sensitive to the needs of children have now been established. The recruitment and kidnapping of children by terrorist cells have been made a special offence on our law books. And regulation in relation to foster homes is in effect. But there is still a long way to go.
Differently-abled children still face overwhelming disadvantages within our education system. Every year, thousands of students leave the school system without a single pass and with highly uncertain futures. And while agencies like the Children’s Authority are becoming more visible, they remain hamstrung by a lack of resources relative to the extent of the problem.
Which is why today we call on the national community to commit to this problem by recognising the role all right-thinking citizens have to play in protecting our children by being vigilant, supportive and proactive.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then let us do a better job.