Time to protect our children

Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS . In Fiji, hundreds of children are victims of child abuse and are abused by a close relative or parent which has shocked many in
13 Jun 2008 12:00

image Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS . In Fiji, hundreds of children are victims of child abuse and are abused by a close relative or parent which has shocked many in our society. Child abuse is defined as the physical, psychological or sexual maltreatment of children and there are many forms of abuse ranging from neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
It is believed that abused children display disruptive and aggressive behaviour, anger and rage, anxiety and fear, drug and alcohol abuse, sleep problems, passive, withdrawn or needy behaviour, self destructive or self abusive behavior, suicidal thoughts and symptoms of depression.
Incidences of parents or relatives abusing children in the country are alarming and many have questioned why people, particularly parents or close relatives willfully commit acts that harm children they are supposed to care for and nurture.
Interim Education Minister Filipe Bole said his ministry was gravely concerned with the spate of reported rape, child abuse and incest cases.
He said this was an issue which existed, real and larger than life around us.
“It cannot continue to be swept under the carpet and we cannot pretend that it does not affect us,” said Mr Bole.
The minister said statistics revealed that in March alone, 128 cases of domestic violence were reported of which three were rape, three sexual harassment and four child abuse incidents.
In 2007, he said, there were 441 cases of domestic violence, of which 12 were rape, 10 sexual harassment and 27 child abuse cases.
Mr Bole said these were only the reported cases, however there were many unreported cases because of fear and threats.
He urged parents, care-givers, guardians and the community around children to be aware of the devil that might be lurking in their homes, school or community.
“There are signs and symptoms of child abuse, which could be the saving grace of a child,” he said.
Under the Convention on the rights of the child, governments have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring children’s rights.
The convention was ratified in 1993 by the Fiji Government. The ratification of this international law gives rise to new and further opportunities of protection and welfare of children, the promotion and protection of children’s rights and a heightened awareness on the children’s issues in Fiji.
The convention’s guiding principle is that children’s rights are human rights and they need special care and protection. The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre said child sexual abuse happened in all cultures and all kinds of families, rich or poor, large or small, well educated or not.
FWCC coordinator Shamima Ali said victims of child sexual abuse could be boys as well as girls and offenders could be women as well as men, with most victims being girls (over 90per cent) and most offenders being men (over 90per cent).
She said very few victims reported the abuse and this made it very hard for them to understand how big the problem was, but there had been so many informal reports that they knew was widespread.
“The Women’s Crisis Centre has dealt with a number of victims, doctors, nurses, workers from Social Welfare and other helping agencies report many cases they know of.
“Many victims never speak out when the abuse is happening, but do so once they become adults and learn that they are not the only one this has ever happened to,” said Ms Ali.
Some victims and their families she said now report to helping agencies but still very few reported to the police.
According to her sexually abused children live with fear, guilt, loneliness and confusion. “They often live that way for a very long time, even when they have grown up.
“Sometimes they are emotionally damaged and appear calm, cold and unaffected by what has happened to them,” she said.
She said with the crime of sexual abuse, the victim is least able to help him/herself and it was up to us as a community to join together to protect children and work together to stop child sexual abuse.
“We must encourage children to tell. We need to lobby for legal reform which makes the legal process less traumatic for the child who reports.”
Ms Ali said children have a right to grow up in a safe environment and it is up to us to protect them and keep them safe.
The Department of Social Welfare said, sexual child abuse is a crime and the department worked on cases reported to them by the police, FWCC, Health Ministry and other agencies.
Communications officer Fred Elbourne said whatever agency a case was reported to, eventually this would be referred to their department as the courts would always seek a report from them.
“An offender can be prosecuted if charges are laid against him. The Director of Social Welfare is mandated by the juveniles Act to remove a child from a situation where a child is at risk and vulnerable to abuse.
“We provide protective care for victims. To date we are happy with the awareness programmes carried out by stakeholders and agencies and reporting cases,” said Mr Elbourne.
Save the Children Fiji said, it was concerned with the increase in cases of rape and abuse against children. Chief executive officer Chandra Shekhar said offenders should be dealt with severely through the law and there should be maximum sentences and compulsory rehabilitation programmes so they do not re-offend.
He said poor or negligent parenting was a problem and we should rake more care of our children, train them and make them aware of the vulnerable society so that children could avoid such situations.
“Parents however cannot alone be responsible for total safety as things can happen in their absence.
“Therefore the society and community as a whole should take responsibility. We all have to ensure that the people we entrust our children to are trustworthy,” said Mr Shekhar.
He added that we need to be aware of people our children associate with and children’s protection has to be everyone’s business and not left to parents.
“We have to know the people in our community better to identify the unscrupulous ones. “Religious groups and social network must pay attention to this problem and remain alert to avert abuse,” he said.
The organization, he said, has a child rights protection unit that was handling the advocacy issues with various outreach programmes being conducted or planned.
Interim Minister for Women and Social Welfare Dr Jiko Luveni said everyone must play a part to ensure young children are protected at all times.
The minister said there was an increasing need for young children to be protected through education, proper upbringing, family and communities.
“Children need family support and a caring upbringing. It is everyone’s role from churches, non-government organisations, to the ministry to address this issue,” said Dr Jiko.
Police have called on members of the public to pay attention, be aware and be more vigilant on the movement of their children.
Police media liaison officer Atunaisa Sokomuri said people should immediately inform police if they know a crime has been committed.
“Police are there to serve and people shouldn’t fear approaching them,” said Mr Sokomuri.

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