On Thursday, February 23, 2012, a letter by Minister of Human Services and Social Security Jennifer Webster was published in Stabroek News under the caption, ‘The government has a commendable record in addressing the issue of sexual abuse of children.‘ This letter was in response to concerns raised by Danuta Radzik and other members of Help and Shelter in a letter published on February 15, 2012 in the same newspaper.
Among other things Minister Webster’s letter said, “Lest Ms Radzik and company have forgotten, this PPP/C government has reached out and embraced all stakeholders in making changes… Help and Shelter is foremost among them… When their international funding ceased, it was this government, which many years ago stepped in to rescue Help and Shelter.” She went on to mention the millions of dollars government had spent on Help and Shelter from 2007 to 2011.
We can’t be absolutely sure what the Minister meant by this outburst, but we want to tell her what it sounded like – that anyone receiving money from the government has no right to criticize or question the government. Her letter acknowledged the merits of some of the observations made in Help and Shelter’s letter and also said in closing that “Child protection is everyone’s business. All are responsible and must be involved.” Yet in a way that seems all too typical of government spokespersons; her response to concerns voiced by an organization committed to child protection was to leap to the defence of her government against what she clearly perceived as an attack.
As we all know, rape and sexual assault against children are growing phenomena in our society and very young children are falling prey to predators, in spite of the work of many organizations including the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, communities and individuals. But there are gaps in the work that the ministry is doing. Little of the training anticipated in the Act has been done. Compared to the need, the Child Care agency is still under-resourced and under-trained. Police and court responses continue to be woefully inadequate; and so, too, is the essential coordination of agency responses. Instead of using up her time and energy to defend her government and ministry when people make valid criticisms and rightfully vent their frustration, Minister Webster should channel them into expediting the enforcement of the Sexual Offences Act.
Our children need protection! Our children need justice!
If we can’t work together to give them a safer life is there anything at all on which we can work together?