by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): According to the World Health Organization (WHO), millions of children experience sexual violence yearly. In light of these numbers, the United Nations recently declared November 18 as the World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence, which is now two days before World Children’s Day on November 20.
The new World Day aims to bring global visibility to the trauma of child sexual abuse, with the hope that governments will take action to fight against such abuses.
November 20-25, the Department of Probation and Child Protection Services hosts child abuse prevention week under the theme “Leading with Prevention – Creating Awareness, Promoting Alliances and Strengthening Communities.
The week will highlight children’s rights and emphasize the importance of protecting young people under the age of 18 years. It will feature several activities, including public preschool visits on November 23, a parenting workshop on November 24 and on November 25, Go Blue Day, where the public is encouraged to wear blue in support of the fight against child abuse.
Junior Minister responsible for Social Development and Gender Affairs, Hon. Isalean Phillip described child abuse in the Federation as common based on the reports received but admitted that reports do not paint the complete picture.
“Any form of abuse – whether emotional, physical or sexual limits and curtails a child’s inclusion and growth into healthy adolescents and adults. The Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs intends to increase awareness of this serious issue throughout the week and beyond by highlighting child abuse prevention strategies, strengthening alliances with community groups and stakeholders, and creating new partnerships that will ultimately lead to communities that provide safer environments for children and facilitate their holistic inclusion,” said the Junior Minister in a national address commemorating World Children’s Day.
Probation Officer Lawston Percival from the Department of Probation and Child Protection Services reported that child abuse occurs more frequently in different forms and areas in the Federation.
As a guest on the November 21 edition of Freedom’s “Issues”, Percival addressed the concern of confidentiality and assured the public that the department is aware of how small the community is in the Federation and that confidentiality was an ingrained practice in the department, which includes regular training.
The Department of Probation and Child Protection Services is working to forge connections with youth groups and community groups to build a network that would be safe for sharing information as it relates to the abuse of children.
Percival, in his opinion, believes that the department is not staffed to serve the public efficiently.
“From where I stand, I don’t think the department is staffed enough for the amount of work that I know definitely that the department handles. That is one of the reasons why we are stretching our tentacle out there we want to get the word out there, get the faces out there too, to let people know that these are who we can deem as safe people. These are people who you can go to and speak to… to seek help whenever any situation arises.”
How does the department determine where they would need to intervene?
According to Percival, the department collaborates with the Special Victim’s Unit of the Police and through their investigations, determines the best approach.
“A case is made and it goes to [the] Special Victims Unit. They will in turn send the matter down to us for further investigation. Let’s say for instance a fight in a school – that happens, it comes down to the department and it’s assigned to an officer and that officer now will have to basically dissect everything, see who the players in the fight were… then we go to the school get the information; do a home visit, do an assessment of that nature and see exactly what was the cause of the fight, what the home structure is like… you have to get down to the nitty-gritty and find out exactly what was the issue here; what was the fight [about] and once that is done then we can move forward to the next stage whether it could deal with it from the education standpoint or we have to take it further.”
The Probation officer said the department intends to be more active in communities so that people are aware of their existence, what they do and how they can help stop or prevent children’s abuse.
Percival urged the public if they know something or have seen something, to report instances of child abuse at the offices, through the counselling centre or by calling 467-1311 or 662-3833.