EDITORIAL: We have the statistics - now what can be done to stop child abuse?

WE have the statistics - now what can be done to stop child abuse?

Where is our outrage?

That is the question being posed by Terneille Burrows, of advocacy group Rise Bahamas, following the announcement of the latest statistics on child abuse.

The numbers show 240 cases of child abuse, neglect and abandonment in the period between January and October last year – the numbers for November and December are not yet available.

In itself, that is a slight reduction on the same period the year before – when 258 cases were reported to the Ministry of Social Services, although the number of cases of neglect increased.

However, it can be challenging to know what the true figures are. All too often, cases go unreported.

How often has a child been hit by a parent in the street and no one speaks up in protest? How often does a child suffer abuse in the home and people know it is happening but never intervene?

Terneille Burrows recalled the case of Baby Bella – D’Onya Bella Walker, who died aged four in 2021 from blunt force trauma, saying: “In the instance of Baby Bella, it was reported by the media that some of the child’s neighbours suspected that she was in an abusive household, but never reported it. In 2022, Rise Bahamas proposed the introduction of Bella’s Bill – which would expand the mandatory reporting categories where child abuse is suspected – to include immediate family, guardians and caregivers.”

At the funeral of Baby Bella, Father David Cooper said: “Bella’s death was indeed tragic; it was unnecessary, but the heart-wrenching thing is it was avoidable.”

Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis called the situation “distressing”, adding: “Let us do all that we can to ensure that no other child suffers the same fate. It goes far beyond what our laws can achieve and to the very idea of who we are. There are those in every society whose transgressions defy comprehension. Our job is to do what is necessary to prevent it.”

It was in November 2021 that Mr Davis called for us to do all that we can – but while proposals such as Bella’s Bill have been put forward, little else appears to have been done to take action against abuse.

We must of course note the drop in numbers, which is welcome, but also acknowledge that many cases still exist.

In large part, the conversation about what to do about abuse has largely been absent, stirring only in horrific individual cases, or when statistics show the extent of the problem.

What can be done? Well, we must confront the reality of where and when abuse tends to occur. Stress is a prime source – and families caught in the poverty trap are particularly subject to stress and money worries. Parenting skills, or the lack thereof, can be an issue – to which end how are we ensuring these skills are passed along to new parents? Especially in a country where single-parent families are common, leading to one parent who may or may not have such skills having to cope at home.

And what about making it safer for people to report when there is a problem. In the Baby Bella case, one neighbour said they suspected abuse at another location but said: “You know we think something like this is happening - but what can we do? If we call, word may get out that it’s us who made the report and these new set of guys living round here seem to have nothing to live for.”

Also back in November 2021, Minister of Social Services Obie Wilchcombe said: “Should this not be a wakeup call to us all?”

It should. And so should the statistics today. We will be sure to ask the government how we have woken up, and what we have done.

The real deal?

In the Iraq War, there was a Minister of Information of Iraq by the name of Muhammad Saeed Al Sahhaf. That is not the name he is remembered by.

He became known for his briefings in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but his claims were always far from reality.

Indeed, he famously denied that there were any American tanks in Baghdad when they were in fact only several hundred metres from where he was speaking and the sounds of fighting could be heard in the background. His false claims earned him the nickname Comical Ali.

Meanwhile, in today’s Tribune, we have the Chinese Embassy insisting that the country has the COVID-19 situation under control even as the US, UK and European nations announce new testing measures for visitors, and the contractor for Village Road talking about safety measures for the road despite pictures circulating of a car upended in an open trench.

Just because someone says it doesn’t mean that it is so.


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