Officials want a more proactive approach to child abuse
In light of recent incidents involving the death of children in Barbados, UNICEF children’s champion and former magistrate Faith Marshall-Harris believes Barbados has reached crisis level when it comes to child abuse.
United Nations officials also are calling on residents and authorities to take a more proactive approach to tackling the issue.
“We clearly have a crisis situation with child abuse and the two incidents [the apparent suicide of 12-year-old Shamar Weekes of Fryers Well in St Lucy in May and the alleged abuse of six-year-old Johann King a few days ago] have had a lot of publicity and brought it to our attention. But actually the abuse has been there. It has been going on, not necessarily apparent, and I am afraid we have had some sort of failure in terms of handling these abuse issues,” said Marshall-Harris.
Pointing out that the root causes of child abuse were varied, she said one thing that was common, based on the assessment of living conditions survey as well as anecdotal evidence, was that most child abuse cases happened in homes where single parents were “struggling with large families.
“And, unfortunately, the use of corporal punishment is fairly widespread. And you know where there is frustration, there is anger about the excessive burden of care that can easily turn into physical abuse,” Marshall-Harris said.
“I think that is one of the things that we are seeing manifested. We are kind of tolerant about corporal punishment in Barbados but I am saying that tolerance has now gone the other way in a sense that it has now become abuse of children and I think that is what we are seeing manifested.”
The attorney-at-law said while more people were beginning to report where they noticed signs of abuse, “our way of responding is not yet fully clarified and that is what we need to work towards”.
“We all have a part to play, I don’t think we can just depend on authorities to do everything. We as a community we have got to raise our children . . . Everybody has got to put their hands on deck.”
In the latest incident involving six-year-old Johann King, who died of unnatural circumstances, his grandmother Margaret Gill blamed the Child Care Board. A number of readers have pointed the finger at the parents. However, the boy’s mother and father were released after several hours of questioning by police yesterday.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY on the issue, UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Khin-Sandi Lwin said: “Unfortunately, when we talk about statistics, people just keep going and saying ‘yes, we need to do something’, but when you have real cases coming in the public’s eye, that is when we expect there will be a lot more work”.
“As soon as we heard about this case this week, I wrote to Minister [of Social Care Steve] Blackett that we will stand behind the Government and the Ministry to put in place the recommendations made in two reports that we supported to really evaluate the capacity of the Child Care Board to respond effectively in these times of austerity and budget cuts,” said Lwin.
“People will say ‘we can’t put money into these issues’, but we have to make that fiscal space because that is where lives are lost. So I think that with the media attention and support to really tackle the issue, even with limited resources, we have to invest in a robust system, not just in social welfare people but the police, the magistrates, the health workers and teachers to work arm in arm to be able to respond, to prevent and to act,” she explained.
She also revealed that over the past weekend some churches “came forward” and pledged to play a greater role in responding and tackling cases that were brought to their attention.
“So we are anticipating that there will be a gearing up of response,” she said.
Meanwhile Bishop of Barbados John Holder told Barbados TODAY it was “always horrific when a child dies, and when the finger points at the parent, it is even more awful”.
However, he cautioned individuals against leveling blame.
“In each case there will be a whole set of circumstances that only the police would know, and/or only the parents would know. So it is difficult to pronounce unless you have all the details,” said Holder.
“The important point is [that] a child that dies as a result of violence is never acceptable. It can never be accepted. Therefore, as a church, we would protest against that . . . We are totally against this violence inflicted upon our children,” the Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies added.
He urged the parents and relatives affected by the death of the children in recent times to “hang in there”, adding that the Anglican Church, at the parish level, would continue to do “whatever we can to support the parents because losing a child to violence is not easy but we will try our best”.
Meanwhile, UN Women Representative and head of the Multi-Country office for the Caribbean, Christine Arab, described the latest incidents as “appalling”.
“In recent times, Barbados has had some heartbreaking cases,” said Arab.
She also cautioned residents about placing the blame on each other.
“I think too often in the Caribbean when something tragic happens to the children or if the children or young adults perpetuate violence, too often the mother is blamed because too often she is the only care giver in the home . . . While each case is different, you cannot point fingers. And too often that finger is only being pointed to her and it is not discussing the fact that he [the father] is not there. This would be equally a form of bad parenting if in fact someone did perform bad parenting,” she said.
They were speaking on the sidelines of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between UN Women and the Attorney General’s Office to strengthen the justice response to ending gender-based violence in Barbados.