THE JULY/AUGUST vacation is traditionally a time when children take a break from school and when families make fond memories. But the joys of this time can completely evaporate in the blink of an eye with just one error, lapse or oversight. When it comes to safety, we agree with the position taken by Acting Supt Joseph Chandool of the police Child Protection Unit (CPU) on Wednesday calling on parents to do more than merely “throwing an eye” on their charges.
“It is critical that we understand the places that children can be hurt or where there are threats to their lives,” Chandool said at a press conference at the Children’s Authority, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. As an example, he said parents should encourage children to buckle up when in the back seat of a car, regardless of whether the law stipulates this or not.
“The law shouldn’t have to legislate on how to keep your children safe,” he said. Everyone should be encouraged to do a complete sweep of their premises in order to identify hazards. This is a process that should not be superficial. Often, seemingly harmless things can become harmful in certain situations.
“Simple things we overlook, like dining-room chairs should be secured so they don’t fall on babies,” noted Chandool. He said while the CPU and other organisations had various education campaigns to have child-proof homes, parents must also take the initiative. There are many resources that could be drawn upon. Neighbours and communities should also co-operate and exercise vigilance.
The potential for child abuse is something people must always be mindful of. But neglect is also another danger.
Under Section 4 of the Children’s Act, anyone guilty of abuse or neglect of children could face a penalty of a $5,000 fine or imprisonment for six months when convicted summarily or face a fine of $50,000 or spend ten years in prison on conviction or indictment.
“Ignorance is no excuse,” Chandool said. “You can’t go around saying ‘I didn’t know.’ It is your responsibility to find out what is necessary. There are places – schools, churches and health centres – that have parenting classes, so there are ways to know what is required of you.”
While many are subject to ongoing investigation, recent fatal incidents involving children in cars, escaping child-barriers, suffering at children’s hospices, and falling at home underline the prevalence of the risks involved. Parents need to do more than just keep an eye out at home, they should also be mindful at the beach and closely regulate delegated activities such as those at camps.
Finally, communities as a whole must also be vigilant and parents must also educate their children as to the best practices in specific situations so that the vacation period is one of happy memories and not tragedy. Prevention is better than cure.