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In the month of September, we celebrate our indigenous people, education month and also a time of the month we highlight child protection matters. The period September 20th to 26th, 2020 marks the observance of child protection week under the theme: “Protecting Children and Empowering Families to cope with the global pandemic”. The global pandemic rages on – with more than 31 million reported cases worldwide, of which Guyana reported 2,437 as at September 22, 2020. In this global pandemic empowering families to protect their children remains a significant challenge since child protection is not only about safeguarding your children from violence but it is also ensuring that children are given all the support, care and love they need to grow up to achieve their dreams and aspirations. Nevertheless, the challenge of protecting children from violence and abuse not only remains – it has taken on heightened importance.
Strategies for prevention of child abuse have been significantly reduced particularly for children who do not have access to social media. Prior to the pandemic, ChildLinK and other non-governmental organizations as well as government agencies engaged children in sensitization sessions in several mediums including primary and secondary schools. The sessions were very interactive and focused on topics such as child abuse, anger management and gender-based violence, among others. In ChildLinK’s Child Rights Alliance (CRA) project, we sensitized 6,190 children from 2016 to 2018 in several schools. We found that 1 in every 20 children who participated in the sessions reported some form of abuse. It is evident that these sessions are important to increased reporting over the years. The Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) reported 2,815 reported cases of child abuse in its 2015 annual report. That number increased to 4,917 in 2018 – a 75 percent increase in reported cases. The presence of NGOs in schools was of significant influence and safeguarded many children from abuse. In these sessions children outlined what topics they would like to know more about and in one session a teen who was sexually groomed and subsequently abused by her biological father disclosed the abuse to her friend in school.
While many would like to think that children are ‘safe at home’, that is not always the case. ChildLinK’s 2018 report ‘Cries in the Dark: Child Sexual Abuse in Guyana Today’ found that in 84 percent of the 334 cases we examined, the perpetrator was either a family member or someone known and trusted by both the child and/or the parent. Children need their peers/friends, teachers and social educators to support their protection from abuse, nonetheless a bigger responsibility rest with family members, neighbours/community members and the wider society to take more action against those who abuse children. In a recent case that we shared in a previous article that occurred during the pandemic, a man known to the family of a teen observed that the teen’s mother leaving her home to go to work. After the man saw that the mother entered minibus, he went to visit the teen and spoke to her while she was standing at the door. The perpetrator eventually forced his way into the home and sexually assaulted the teen. Perhaps, we need to find out more about those in our neighbourhood.
Sensitizations sessions are also held with parents to improve their parenting skills and knowledge of parenting in the 21st century. Many parents admitted that they did not have good rapport with their children – especially the teens. They admitted that the sessions helped them improve their communication skills with their children and by extension helped them forge a closer relationship with their children. Imagine how better this relationship could have been had the parents had access to this information earlier! Perhaps we need to find an earlier time in an adult life to talk about parenting before they actually become parents.
Parents and all adults, ChildLinK and our partners encourage you to make your home a safe space for your children. The COVID-19 related change is difficult for them too but your children are dependent on you to support them through this difficult period. We continue to call on community members to report any known cases of child abuse. We encourage faith leaders to encourage your members to uphold positive moral values that are common in all faiths – those values that recognize every individual, especially children, should be loved and treated with compassion. While many social services providers adjust their intervention strategies utilizing social media apps and tele-counselling; parents you are encouraged to utilize these opportunities to improve your parenting and caring for your children.
ChildLinK is working to create a Guyanese society where every child grows up in a loving, safe, and secure family and community. The Recovery, Safeguarding, and Reintegration initiative is supported by the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana and partners with the CPA and several agencies to reintegrate children to safe families and educate the wider society on the prevention of child abuse. Please write us with your comments and questions. Let us know how you would like to get involved in protecting children in your community by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Report child abuse by calling the CPA on 227-0979, the closest Police station, or ChildLinK on 233-3500 or email: email@example.com.