At the very least, the report that over 1,300 complaints about child abuse were filed with the Children’s Authority in its first three months of operation suggests that the public is aware of the Authority and its role, and is willing to turn to it on behalf of children.
This is good news. Everyone needs to play their part in ferreting out child abuse and activating the powers of the Children’s Authority in its role as the institutional protector of our children. The fact that close to five cases a day of alleged child abuse were reported to the Authority over the three-month period is a hard and horrible fact to stomach. But exposing child abuse is a vital first step in protecting children and eliminating the scourge of abuse.
There is still much to be done for our children. Many people are still unaware that under the Children’s Act 2012, a child has been re-defined as someone under the age of 18. This is an important message for everyone, especially the Children’s Authority, to keep hammering home to the public at large. It is still commonplace for defendants, especially those charged with sexual offences, to plead ignorance about the age of consent.
The Children’s Act outlines a broad range of responsibilities with which parents and guardians are held to account by law. It is very important that the public be sensitised to the responsibilities and attendant legal liabilities of those charged with looking after the welfare of children. Everyone, including children, must be helped to understand the law and know how to use it.
It should come as no shock that allegations of sexual abuse account for almost a quarter of the 1,300 complaints filed with the Children’s Authority. Our children are among the most vulnerable to the sexual predators in our midst, many of whom would recoil at the very notion of being described as predators.
The Children’s Act 2012 is a serious piece of legislation with tough penalties that should be emphasised in a national awareness campaign to serve as a deterrent against neglect, abuse and exploitation of children. Our historical conditions have not supported a culture of child protection nor are we, as a society, particularly attentive to the rights of children. Even now, there are many, including parents, who believe in the literal application of the saying that to spare the rod is to spoil the child.
Violence against children is not always physical, however. Bullying, deprivation and ridicule are destructive forms of abuse that leave indelible scars. Against these, too, are our children to be protected.
In some quarters, it might be revolutionary to suggest that children should be empowered with the knowledge of their own rights and be made familiar with how to go about seeking help. But this is precisely what is needed to release children from the fear of reaching out. At home, in school and in the community, they must be encouraged to believe that the public, the law and all of us are on their side.