(Jamaica Observer) Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller says her administration will be pursuing more stringent measures in dealing with the sexual abuse of children, including harsher penalties for parents and guardians.
“How can anyone hurt a child?” Simpson Miller asked rhetorically during Thursday’s launch of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) poster competition and public education campaign at Jamaica House in Kingston.
The prime minister, who said she has had discussions with the justice minister on the issue, declined to say what was the focus of the talks, but said parents and guardians as well as offenders would be held for such crimes as they “must never escape serious punishment for hurting a child”.
Simpson Miller was speaking against the background of a recent Jamaica Observer report on the alarming levels of sexual abuse of the country’s children. The story, published last Sunday, highlighted the horrific incidents of child abuse and rape, with a number of the young victims ending up with sexually transmitted diseases.
“I am sure all of us must be feeling a sense of shame that this could be happening in Jamaica at this time and age,” said Simpson Miller, who added that the country had embarked on a “long road from slavery” and is now celebrating its 50th year of Independence.
“We have to take some tough decisions, we will have to do some things; and I don’t want to hear anyone cry about any decision taken by the Government or by the law in terms of protecting the children of Jamaica,” said Simpson Miller.
“Children are very close to my heart,” she added.
Currently, under the Child Care and Protection Act, failing to report that a child is being abused or is in need of care can result in a sentence of six months in prison or a fine of $500,000. The maximum sentence for incest (having sex with a relative) is 16 years’ imprisonment.
Other types of abuse attract higher sentences, based on the level of injury done to the child. For instance, hiring a child to work in a nightclub attracts a penalty of $1 million and the risk of having the club closed by the authorities.
Simpson Miller, who chairs the NRSC, also lamented the number of children killed in traffic crashes, but commended the work done by the council in raising road safety awareness in schools.
Each year the lives of more than 300 citizens, a significant number of them children, are cut short because of road crashes, she said. “Let us teach road safety at the earliest age,” added Simpson Miller.
In the meantime, telecoms giant Digicel Thursday donated approximately $2.3 million to the NRSC to aid in its poster competition and public education thrust.
The NRSC road safety poster competition is open to the students ages six to 19 years old from all schools across the island. The deadline for entries is May 14.