Over 200 children drawn from primary schools across the parish of St. Catherine recently converged on the Old Harbour Church of God of Prophecy Conference Centre for a child abuse awareness prevention symposium/Sympar put on by the St. Catherine Child Protection Committee in association with the Child Development Agency. The event planned to coincide with World Day against Child Labour.
The Child Protection Committee is a sub-committee of the Parish Development Committee that has responsibility for the welfare of children in the Parish. Sponsored by UNICEF and in association with its stakeholders, the Child Development Agency has been spearheading the establishment of these committees across the island. CPCs are now operational in some five parishes. The St. Catherine Symposium was sponsored by Lasco.
Speaking at the event, State Minister for Labour , Social Security, Agriculture and Fisheries the Hon. Luther Buchanan condemned child labour “as an outright infringement of the rights of our children and a barrier to the development of the nation.”
“The simple truth is that children belong in school where they can be educated, trained and prepared for decent work when they become adult,” he declared.
The State Minister noted while the reported 16,000 children engaged in child labor in Jamaica could be considered miniscule when compared to the 168 million worldwide, Jamaica still had a responsibility to protect its children from any exposure to child labour; whether it is on the streets; in agriculture; fishing; commercial establishments, selling in the markets, as domestic workers; playmakers in tourism and entertainment; in fields that in which they are sexually exploited or otherwise used to carry out elicit activities.
He noted that the country continued to work to bring an end to child labour through consistently instituting legislative changes, policies and programme, including a National Plan of Action on Child Labour among other measures.
Mr. Buchanan urged Jamaicans “to say no to child labour and yes to quality education.
In her remarks, CEO of the Child Development Agency Rosalee Gage-Grey decried the fact that the nation’s children were being attacked from all angles.
“They are being abused, mistreated; killed and pushed to such despondency that some of them resort to taking their own lives. Every day in communities our children’s hearts are being broken and their bodies and minds ravaged by abuse, neglect and the denial of their rights” she said.
Mrs. Gage-Grey noted that the family and the community must be the tool that supports the safeguarding, healing and restoration of the nation’s children.
She observed that while members of the society had begun to push back against those seeking to harm children, more persons needed to report child abuse.
The CDA CEO disclosed that the Agency had been intensifying its presence in communities by staging walkthroughs; town hall meetings; parenting workshops and beefing up its investigation mechanism.
She reminded the audience that Child Protection Committees were crucial to what the CDA was seeking to accomplish in communities, adding that child protection required consistent effort by all of to make the safety of our children a priority.
“You have been set up to play a major role in safeguarding our children. We also want you to be the eyes and ears of agencies such as the CDA. You are the ones on the ground on a daily basis. You live in communities and as such more often than not you will know what is going on even before we do,” Mrs. Gage-Grey said.
She congratulated the St. Catherine Child Protection Committee on the sympar event.
Chairman of the St. Catherine Child Protection Committee Alexi Reid stated that the Committee was committed to actively raising the quality of life for every child by pursuing actively protecting and prevention measures.
“We want all children to have a safe, uninterrupted childhood and achieve their full potential,” Mr. Reid said.
Chairman of the Parish Development Committee Earl Hyde outlined plans to expand the CPC sub-committees to the 54 communities across St. Catherine.
“We want to get information on the ground; it is important that information filters down so people can understand their role in protecting children– not only their own, but the children of others,” Mr. Hyde said.
Declaring that child protection was everybody’s business, Mr. Hyde noted that the goal was to have proactive programmes that speak to prevention.
As part of the day’s activities social workers and psychologists from the CDA engaged the children through interactive sessions on issues to do with child labour, abduction and the various forms of abuse. The Smiles Mobile Unit was also on location and the Smile psychology team provided on spot counseling to the children.
Infotainment was provided by the Children’s First Bashy Bus Crew and the Friendship Primary. A number of oganisations also participated in mounting exhibitions, among them the CDA, Office of the Children’s Registry; Office of the Children’s Advocate; the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Ministry of Justice and the Dispute Resolution Foundation.
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