Departments call for specific agency to register abuse

POSTED: 02/7/12 4:10 PM

St. Maarten – “A lot of the programs are curative. After the fact we are busy with programs. We need to introduce preventative programs because while we are busy outing a fire at one place, there is another fire popping up elsewhere. We need to see what we can do to combat this problem, which has to do with the economic situation.” That is the summed up position on the central registration for child abuse that Women’s Desk delivered to parliament on Monday. Women’s Desk falls within the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor.

The position as delivered by head of the Department of Community Development, Family and Humanitarian Affairs Aida Boyrard-Holman contained six practical recommendations for reporting on child abuse through a centralised system. From the outset she condemned any form of child abuse in the strongest terms and said that the draft law on reporting child abuse has become quite necessary. She also cautioned the parliamentarians to ensure that the term child abuse itself is carefully defined in the law so that any and all instances can be catered to.

“This law should not be limited to the registration of child abuse as defined in Art 243 A subsection 2 but should also include the different types of abuse against children in general. There should be no distinction between child abuse occurring in a relationship of trust and dependency (family members) and abuse of a minor by people who do not have any relationship with the child.  All forms of abuse should be treated equally. At the end of the day abuse is abuse.”

The group hopes that its input will help legislators in amending Book 1 of the Civil Code leading to the efficient handling of child abuse cases.

The recommendations put forward on Monday were arrived at after interdepartmental meetings with all stakeholders that have some role to play in the lives of children. That consultation has revealed that neither resources nor structures are available to effectively implement a central registration system for reporting child abuse. It has also been concluded, in consultation with the Court of Guardianship, that the reporting centre should be an “independent entity that surpasses the authority of the Court of Guardianship” whenever necessary while operating within its own set of parameters. The Court of Guardianship in its presentation to the central committee last December indicated that it was not in support of the reporting centre being placed at its doorstep because it was already overburdened.  Independent member Patrick Illidge questioned whether the various departments had enough money to deal with the existing social ills such as child abuse before taking the decision to set up a new unit.

Head of Social Services Mark Schloss admitted that his department is responsible for financing several community welfare programs but pressed for a general consensus from all levels of government to secure the rights of children.

“We will never have sufficient money or departments to deal with this issue. If we don’t have the tools, there must be a uniform thought to deal with the problem. We are now past 12’oclock and this is serious business. It is important that we get collaboration between the various entities.”

 

While fielding questions from the parliamentarians on the scope of the draft law, Boyrard-Holman kept referring back to the national ordinance on youth care. This draft Antillean law she explained would serve as an excellent guide for providing definitions in the broadest sense and amending the civil code.

“It has a structure and sets clear parameters on who should report and what time should they report. You all should take a quick look at the draft law. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.”

Monday’s hearing represents the eighth hearing to have been conducted by the Central Committee since last November following a decision by the legislative body to get feedback from various interest groups before drafting or amending laws.

United People’s Party (UP Party) parliamentarian Dr. Ruth Douglass questioned what provisions should be made in the law to allow a person who witnesses child abuse to report it without breaching someone’s privacy if the parties directly involved preferred to remain silent.

Boyrard-Holman advised that no exclusive group such as physicians be given the right to report cases of child abuse rather the entire society should be concerned.

“Abuse should be reported by all persons who witness it.”

Faction Leader of U.P. Romain Laville advocated that not only child abuse but also neglect become a part of the discussion.

“You also need to look at truancy, inadequate healthcare and obese children. Poor nutrition also forms of child neglect. The community also needs to get involved and be on the lookout for signs of neglect,” he said.

Dr. Lloyd Richardson of the National Alliance said that the central registration system is “long overdue.” He however expressed concerns on the safety and confidentiality of so called ‘whistle-blowers’.

“We live in a small society where very little is kept secret. Yes the law says that everything will be kept secret but culturally that is not something that we do very well.”

Women’s Desk is responsible for fostering the empowerment of women within the community. Insofar as the situation of women affects the welfare of children, Boyrard-Holman said that her department would continue lending support to the various entities that tackle the problem of child abuse.

Independent parliamentarian Frans Richardson said, “I got a bit concerned when we was told that cockroach now in some of these homes and you ask yourself what it is that we as country St.Maarten are busy with? If this is taking place, then we have our priorities wrong.”

He added that the new law once implemented would greatly affect the way parents deal with disciplining their children. He suggested that it would even change the very culture in St. Maarten.

Policy worker for the Sports and Youth Department, Section Youth Affairs Elmora Aventurin Pantophlet said that her department monitors the right of the child and also educate children on laws protecting them.

“If a child becomes pregnant under the legal age it should be looked into. Was it consensual? Were they raped? Some parents are afraid to confront the perpetrator. They need to go to a safe place to lodge their complaint. All of these things have to be looked at when implementing the law.”

Aventurin-Pantophlet stressed that it is not the government’s responsibility to take care of children, the direct responsibility rests with parents. She offered that parents be retrained on how to be actually be parents. She also encouraged parliamentarians to sit in sessions and hear from victims themselves while taking measures to safeguard children.

“People should have the opportunity to give their opinion on this issue. Just us coming from the departments alone is not enough. It is too wide for you to hear simply from us.”

The Ministry of Justice has already taken steps to initiate a child abuse hotline.

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