Submitted by Felicia Browne, Human Rights Advocate
The Convention on the Rights of Children states that children have the right to live in environments free from violence. These fundamental rights provide social and political protection for children.
However, in many Caribbean societies, child abuse has created serious developmental challenges for children and young adolescents. Young children are increasingly becoming victims of abuse, especially in domestic violence cases.
Over the past few months, the Caribbean Mentorship Institute is alarmed by the number of children that have died due to abuse. Child fatalities due to abuse and neglect are still underreported. One report on national child abuse and neglect deaths estimates that approximately 50 percent of deaths reported as “unintentional injury deaths” are reclassified after further investigation by medical and forensic experts as deaths due to maltreatment or physical abuse. It is often more difficult to establish whether a fatality was caused by neglect than it is to establish a physical abuse fatality. The institute states that though there has been a public outcry for those young lives, our policy makers continue to condone corporal punishment in public schools and homes, which signals indifference to physical violence inflicted by big people on small ones.
The Institute adds that though effective parental education is being provided to new parents, not enough is being done to guard against excess force being inflicted on children. As a result, civil society and public organizations should play an active role in advocating for the victim’s rights. For instance, the Children’s Act provides specific guidelines for the accepted norm of physical punishment of children by their parents and guardian, however, the Act take little consideration for the psychological and mental trauma that children may suffer due to physical punishment. And it falsely supposes there is a need for any physical punishment of young children.
The president of the CMI adds that, “children should be protected under the State. We must work effortlessly to ensure their safety in their homes, schools and public spaces. We should provide continuous parental education on peaceful parenting techniques that will provide parents and guardians with knowledge of child safety and development. Additionally, our policy-makers should ensure that there are no contradictions where children safety is concerned. If the State provides parents and guardians with the authority and autonomy to physically punish their children, then why isn’t consideration given for the psychological care of children. Physical abuse and punishment have been known to trigger psychological and emotional trauma for young children. It is critically important that such laws and parental rights be revised to afford the holistic development of children.
The safety and protection of children are their fundamental human rights; we should all be responsible for their safety.