Bajans urged to report child abuse

Barbadians are being urged to change their hands-off approach when it comes to reporting cases of child abuse or their suspicions of abuse to “protect our children”.

Minister of Home Affairs, Public Information and Broadcasting Wilfred Abrahams made the appeal in the House of Assembly on Tuesday during debate on a resolution to adopt the Report of the Joint Select Committee (Standing) on Social Sector and the Environment on the Child Protection Bill, 2023 and the Child Justice Bill, 2023.

“A lot of persons were concerned about the mandatory reporting, what it means for them if they see something and they don’t say it. Can they be arrested and carried away? When we think of the mandatory reporting, let us start by understanding once again that we’re dealing with literally the most vulnerable section in our community. 

“I think when you look at the tier, and the levels of vulnerability in our society, children come at the top . . . and these are not just any children. These are children who, by virtue of their circumstance, are even more vulnerable than the ordinary child,” he said.

Stating that mandatory reporting was one of the most contentious areas of the bill, the Member of Parliament for Christ Church East said the legislation allows people to do so anonymously to the police or director of the Child Care Board after which a probe will be conducted. 

He told the House that “for a long time”, the authorities relied on the children to give the evidence, to make a report or on somebody to make a report on behalf of the child, but the child still had to say something which made it difficult if a parent or relative was allegedly the abuser and resided with the minor.

Abrahams said this legislation removes the burden from the child to report and “spreads it around to other people who should have the child’s best interests at heart”.

“For some reason, we have a culture almost in Barbados that people don’t want to get involved. ‘I ain’t want to be de body to put them in trouble’. But if you choose to not put a perpetrator in trouble, then you’re perpetuating the child as the victim. So the law says, ‘You know what, we need to actually start to put some responsibility on people who have a duty to look for that child’.”

The legislation makes reporting of child abuse mandatory for a parent, medical practitioner, health practitioner, dental practitioner or nurse or the mental health practitioner; administration of a hospital or medical facility; school principal, teacher or other teaching professional; a social worker or other social service professionals; a law enforcement officer, Internet provider, film technician, computer technician or telecommunications/communications technician.

Abrahams explained that technicians were mentioned particularly those “who have to go into somebody’s phone” and might see something that could not be explained. “You have a duty to disclose it,” he said. 

It also applies to any person who provides health care, free education or religious instruction “and [any] other person who by virtue of the nature of their work, owes a duty of care to a child”. 

The minister said authorities cannot ignore anonymous reports “even if they don’t know who it came from”. He noted that if “sufficient specifics are there to identify the child and the nature of the abuse, the authorities have no option but to investigate”. This anonymous reporting would aid doctors, for example, who might be afraid of losing patients and being “vilified” for reporting cases of child abuse, he added. 

Abrahams said if reports, made in good faith and in the interest of a child, turned out to be wrong, the person reporting was not guilty of anything as it was better the report was made and investigated than it not made “and something happens to the child”. (GBM)

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