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Three-year plan to curb child abuse; Human Services Minister urges public to call 914 to make reports

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 September 2021, 15:38 by Denis Chabrol

This week, Human Services Minister Dr. Vindhya Persaud will launch the ‘Every Child Safe’ campaign, geared towards engaging communities to create safe environments for children.

The Ministry of Human Services will this week-Child Protection Week- launch a three-year programme aimed at virtually eliminating the scourge of child abuse, Minister Dr Vindhya Persaud announced.

“The Ministry’s weeklong activities will culminate in the launch of an impactful three-year programme and strategic policies that center around public awareness, parenting, family relationships and community involvement as well as age appropriate education on child abuse matters for children and adolescents. The activities will involve parents and children and members of various communities, as well as multimedia messages featuring children of
Guyana,” she said.

In a message to mark this year’s observance under the theme “Together, let’s keep children safe,”, she said this week would also see the launch of the very “Child Safe Campaign” through which communities would be targeted.

Latest figures show that child abuse continues to “escalate” based on reported cases totalling 1,918 as of June, 2021, but the Minister noted that many cases remain unreported, allowing predators and perpetrators unfettered access
to vulnerable children. She said use of the 914 Hotline has led to some increase in reporting.

Dr Persaud used the start of Child Protection Week 2019 to push for the use of the 914 hotline where members of the public can report child abuse without giving their names  or evidence of the abuse but only the location where such abuse is occurring.

Persons who may be aware of children in distress are urged to call the 24 hours 914 hotline, or the Child Protection Agency (CPA) on 227 0979.

“An individual wishing to report a matter is not required to provide proof of abuse. If something just doesn’t seem right, it usually isn’t, so the CPA only requires the public to provide the location and identity of the child for us to intervene.

The Human Services Minister  advised members  not to place place pictures of children or anything that identifies a child who is being abused in the public domain as this leads to  stigma, more trauma and mental health issues for these children.

Dr. Persaud said while reporting instances of child abuse to get the process started, there needs to be “optimum functioning” of law enforcement and judiciary.  In that regard, she said the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security has commenced intense training for law enforcement officers through the Child Protection Agency to ensure police to respond quickly to reports of child abuse.  The Minister added that child protection officers are continually trained to provide necessary support to children and family.  The Minister said the ultimate goal is to return children to safe and secure homes. “While interventions may require children to be removed to protective custody of the State, every effort is made to reintegrate and remove children from institutions as early as possible to loving and safe homes,” she added.

She said greater access to the Internet, coupled by challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, are major reasons for greater awareness especially against cyber perpetrators. “The increased and necessary usage of the internet during the pandemic opens newer avenues for abuse, as does the hiatus from school as many children may be in closer proximity to their abusers,” the Human Services Minister said.

Dr. Persaud said public awareness is needed to identify signs of abuse, educate children about their rights and where they can go for safety and protection,  and responsible  reporting by adults. “And, yes, we need to encourage children to tell because they understand that they will not be dismissed but helped!,” the Minister added.

The Ministry of Human Services’ “Every Child Safe Campaign” is aimed at safe environments for children by emphasising that child protection is everyone’s business; everyone – teachers, relatives, friends, neighbours – each must play a role in ensuring that children are in a safe, secure environment, one that nurtures their abilities and enables them to turn into happy, productive adults.

According to Dr Persaud, evidence shows that abused children grow up to be abusers when they start their own families.  She said “we must always remember that, “Children deprived of love, encouragement and safe
environments can morph into adults filled with hate, poor self- worth and intolerance.”  Let us do our bit – Together, let’s keep them safe. Every Child Safe!