BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – The Barbados government says it is working closely with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to create a legislative framework for the mandatory reporting of child abuse.
“I think this is where we have to go. This is a conversation that is now existing in draft between the chief parliamentary counsel and the Ministry. It is to make sure that we get to the point where reporting of child abuse is no longer optional. You no longer have the right to say, "I know it has happened but I didn’t feel like talking about it,” said People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Minister, Kirk Humphrey.
“So, we are having that conversation . . . with the public, but I am hoping that it becomes part of the Child Protection Act that we will have before the Parliament, hopefully before the end of the year. The Child Justice Bill is also in draft so that we have a more comprehensive understanding of child protection, so that we take child protection seriously,” he added.
His comments came amid concerns raised by the Child Care Board (CCB) regarding the under-reporting of child abuse and the high number of physical and sexual abuse cases involving minors.
Humphrey, speaking during the launch of the inaugural Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, said that according to the statistics, at least one case of child abuse is reported daily, and at least one sexual abuse case per week.
According to the latest statistics available for this year, there were 41 child abuse cases in January – 12 physical, 10 sexual, and 18 cases of neglect. In February, there were 42 cases –12 physical, six sexual, and 23 cases of neglect.
The overall number of reported cases of child abuse in 2021 was 489, including 114 for physical abuse and 115 for sexual abuse – a slight increase over 2020 when there were 476 cases of reported child abuse, of which 111 were physical abuse and 106 were sexual abuse.
In 2019, there were 529 cases reported and Humphrey said that while the figures may be viewed as being positive in dealing with the situation, the number of cases is not increasing, as far as he is concerned, “one single case is too many”.
He said the entire society has a role to play in reducing child abuse, and he urged residents to report any cases they see.
CCB director, Roseann Richards said the Board has 21 social workers and several senior child care officers and is able to screen and investigate all reports of child abuse, noting that all may not be substantiated once the checks are made.
The CCB said it has trained officers, as recently as January, to manage the MyChild Helpline App which was launched last December.
Children can download the app on their phones and use it to contact the CCB to request counselling and other services.
Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month is being observed under the theme “Speak up, Speak Out, Report Child Abuse”.