All must act to prevent violence against children – UNICEF

The recent upsurge of violence committed against children, including the brutal sexual abuse and murder of a nine-year-old last week, has prompted the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) outrage and a call to action by all sectors of society.

In a media release on Monday, following the news of alleged sexual acts committed on boys at Ketley Primary School and the death of little Sade Stoby, the organisation’s local representative Johannes Wedenig condemned in the “strongest possible terms these horrific assaults, and in general, child abuse cases that not pervades our communities.”

The organisation ex-pressed condolences to the family of Stoby and other families and children who have suffered the consequences of violence in all its forms.

“We have to view this as a call to action for all of us, everyone – the government, the private sector, NGOs, civil society and religious organisations, all citizens of Guyana – we have to ensure appropriate actions, systems and strategies are in place for our children to be protected. Not one more child should have to face such horrendous circumstances at the hands of inhuman perpetrators. Not one more parent should have to mourn the premature passing of a child under such gruesome circumstances, if we all heed a call to action to help in providing an enabling society in which out children can live and grow to reach their full potential,” Wedenig said in the release.

Referring to Minister of Human Services & Social Security Priya Manickchand’s plea last week to residents of Region Five to help stamp out this scourge, Wedenig said it was now time for all to realise that sexual violence was everybody’s business.

He said what made it even more appalling and challenging was the fact that most of the acts were committed by persons close to the children.

UNICEF said it recognised and fully supported the government and other partners in their efforts to protect children and commended Manickchand’s ministry on the recent launch of the ‘Stamp it Out!’ consultation paper which outlines a number of initiatives aimed at strengthening protection against sexual violence and reform the law on sexual offences. “In this process we cannot over-emphasise the critical role of law enforcement officers in dealing professionally with very sensitive cases of abuse and our judicial system in ensuring speedy processes in a child friendly environment,” the release said.

Wedenig feels that more needs to be done to combat the “rising epidemic” and made reference to the UN Secretary General’s study on violence against children, launched in November 2005, which stated that, “eliminating and responding to violence against children is perhaps most challenging in context of the family, considered by most as the most ‘private’ of private spheres.”

He noted that a follow-up report to the UN Secretary-General’s Global Study on violence against children, recently made public, marks a turning point in the multidimensional response on violence against children and looks at ending adult justification of violence against children.

“There can be no compromise in challenging violence, no violence against children is justifiable, and all violence against children is preventable,” he was quoted as saying in the release.

According to the release, it is known that sexual abuse worldwide is under reported and as such, the cases reported in Guyana may be just the tip of the iceberg.

A recent survey of Caribbean schoolchildren found that some 11% girls and 9% children reported that they had been sexually abused including through incest, while 40% of the girls surveyed reported that their sexual initiation was forced.

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