By Marianne Flach, UNICEF Representative Guyana & Suriname
No violence against children is justifiable, and all violence against children is preventable. Currently the levels of violence against children remain unacceptably high in our society. Statistics from the Child Care and Protection Agency indicated that there were over 2,000 cases of child abuse in 2013.
Within the first few months of 2014, there have been media reports of several cases of violence against children in Guyana, and as the year progresses, more disturbing cases have come to light.
In January it was reported that a 16-year old girl had been murdered, probably by the man with whom she shared a two year relationship; a 7-year old boy was also severely beaten by a head teacher because he brought fire crackers to the school. In February a sexually abused 5-year old girl was rescued from a school yard, and a 2-year old boy was found under a bed badly beaten, malnourished and dehydrated. More recent reports revealed cases of a 6-year old girl was allegedly lured with sweets and raped while on her way to school, and a 10 year old girl who was allegedly raped and impregnated by her father.
These are only a few of the more visible examples of the violence and abuse suffered by children. But for each of the cases that make headlines, there are countless other cases of physical, emotional and sexual abuse and violence, neglect and exploitation that go unnoticed or unreported in our society.
There have also been serious allegations made by children in contact with the law, of abuse suffered while in custody or institutional settings. These children also need our care and support, and must be given the same protection and rights under the law.
Violence inflicts not only physical wounds but leaves emotional scars on children. It affects their physical and mental health, compromises their ability to learn and socialise and undermines their development. Strong collective action is required at all levels to ensure that we commit to breaking the silence and ending violence against children.
UNICEF recognises that a lot of work has been done with respect to the protection of children at the legal, policy, institutional and service delivery levels, and we commend the efforts of all those who make it their daily commitment to prevent abuse and respond to the needs of children.
The 2009 Protection of Children’s Act helps to ensure that we always act in the best interest of the child. However, there is a need to establish long term plans for its implementation.
In 2013, a number of key recommendations were made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and UNICEF encourages the following actions to address these recommendations.
At the National level, there is need for the development of a comprehensive national programme to address violence against children, ensuring active coordination across all sectors for the prevention of violence, including health, education, sports and social protection; and investment in research on sexual abuse of children to determine its root causes and assess its impact.
At the individual level, we should all commit to ending violence in our homes, schools, and communities. We encourage parents, and caregivers to create an environment, where every child feels safe and is protected and cared for, and urge everyone to take an active interest in protecting children, and to seek help where needed. No child deserves to be abused, physically or sexually, violated or exploited.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that every child everywhere has the right to survive, grow and be protected from all forms of violence. This year as we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the convention, we re-commit to taking action and ensuring that we are constantly working to uphold the rights of all Guyana’s children.
UNICEF calls upon the State to lead, with other stakeholders, urgent action to address the high levels of violence against children, including abolishing corporal punishment, fully implementing the Sexual Offences Act 2010, ensuring the speedy approval of the Juvenile Justice Bill, operationalising the Family Court, and accelerating action to address the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Every girl and boy has a right to be protected from all forms of violence. Parents, caregivers, family, community, media, faith-based organisations, international organisations – all of us – must all take action and do what is best for all children.
About UNICEF UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org