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Thursday 20 June 2019
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Commentary

Saving our vulnerable children

TTUTA

THE CONCERN expressed recently by the Minister of Education regarding the frequent reports of extreme violence against children resonates with TTUTA. Notwithstanding the number of laws that have been enacted to protect our children, there are still too many acts of extreme violence and abuse being perpetrated against children.

As teachers, we are very often the first to either take notice of child abuse or the ones to whom children turn for help. Unfortunately, the social support systems existing in our country are woefully inadequate and the necessary interventions by the relevant authorities are painfully slow and bureaucratic.

Many teachers would report that in carrying out their duties as required by law, the police are sometimes unsure about how they should treat reports of child sexual abuse. TTUTA strongly condemns all acts of violence against children and calls on the authorities to ensure that perpetrators of crimes against children are swiftly brought to justice.

Concern must also be expressed regarding the number of young people who are perpetrators of crime, including heinous acts. Such criminal behaviour is usually aided by adults who should also feel the full brunt of the law. The new Judges Rules seem to have caused many cops to hit the pause button when it comes to treating with young offenders.

Unmarked vehicles are almost never available between the police station and the Child Protection Unit (CPU) and teachers are forced to transport children in their private cars in order to ensure that the matter is properly reported.

Follow-up action can sometimes be painfully slow with the lament of inadequate staffing and resources to treat with all the reports reaching their desks. It is all well and good to enact the relevant legislation but the authorities must ensure that the requisite structures are put in place to enable the law to have its intended impact.

Many schools are still without resident guidance officers and school social workers. Accessing these services from the Student Support Services Division is another slow and bureaucratic process that involves writing several reports to layers of authority.

While help is being slowly activated, the unfortunate child continues to endure the abuse, with teachers having to stand helplessly and look on, sometimes running the risk of being attacked by the abuser for bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities.

As a society we are yet to recognise the importance of adequately resourced and functioning social support systems, especially when it comes to children. These services, albeit inadequate, are also the first casualties of budget cuts and austerities.

What is even more disheartening is that sometimes when the system does intervene after the lengthy process, the authorities are unable to extricate the child from the abusive environment.

The role of caring for abused and abandoned children is still essentially carried out by non-governmental organisations and good Samaritans. These are woefully inadequate, poorly policed by the State and are sometimes guilty of abusing children themselves.

So while the minister may have made a timely and relevant observation, such politically correct statements will not by themselves alleviate the plight of our vulnerable and abused children.

As the fabric of the society continues to disintegrate and its various institutions continue to abdicate their responsibilities to nurture and protect the vulnerable, especially our children, the State must take concrete and urgent steps to ensure that the current legislation works in the best interest of children.

A CPU must be adequately staffed. Unmarked police vehicles must be made available to transport victims. Community police must be better trained and au courant with the law to be able to respond to reports of child abuse within minutes. Special facilities must be provided at police stations to discretely interview children in an expedited manner. All schools must be provided with resident guidance officers and social workers.

Community and religious leaders must also do a lot more to educate people holding positions of trust about their sacred responsibilities to protect and nurture children, not abuse or exploit them. Parents experiencing coping challenges must be able to easily access support. Civic-minded individuals must be more willing to report incidences of child physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

If we are to break the vicious cycle of child abuse there must be a concerted effort by all in the society. The Government cannot do it alone, nor will a battery of laws with the noblest of intentions. As a society we must collectively assume responsibility for this social dysfunction.

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