Reporting child abuse is something that every person should feel like they can do. However, in Jamaica there is gap between the laws governing reports and the public’s willingness to do so. In fact: just 1 in 10 adults report child abuse, despite knowing about it.
It is through this gap that many children fall. It is this gap that allows them to be abused and for the silence to continue. At Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), one of our 60 recommendations recently presented to the parliamentary committee reviewing laws to protect vulnerable groups from violence is to close that gap.
Adults most likely to report to the police or CDA
Though there are four core child protection entities, all legally mandated reports of child abuse can only be made to the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR). Section 6(1) of the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) requires that any person who “has information” of child abuse make a report to the Registry, and section 6(4) makes it a criminal offense not to do so.
We want Parliament to expand the list of entities to which these reports can be made to include the Child Development Agency (CDA), the police (through its dedicated branch CISOCA), and the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA).”
In fact, the Children’s Registry is the fifth most likely entity to which Jamaicans will report abuse, and is the entity of which Jamaicans are least aware – yet it is the only one empowered to receive these reports. According to the Registry’s own baseline survey, 53 per cent of adults are most likely to report to the police/CISOCA, and 20 per cent to the CDA.
Just three per cent likely to report to the OCR
Just three per cent are most likely to report abuse to the Registry. This is unsurprising, given that research shows that Jamaicans generally interact with government based on a combination of physical closeness to offices and prior awareness of work. Police stations and CDA offices simply outnumber those of the Registry, and are more spread out across the island.
Of the three child protection entities established by the CCPA, the Registry enjoys the lowest public awareness. Only 40 per cent of adults and 43 per cent of children were aware of it in 2013. Among the children, only 42 per cent could recall something specific, with more children believing that it was “where a child birth is registered,” rather than “a place to call to report child abuse.”
Negative public perception because OCR cannot act
Moreover, given that the Registry can do nothing beyond assess and refer a report to an entity that can act, many view mandatory reporting to it as an unnecessary bureaucratic step of little tangible value. This is one reason why the government plans to merge it with the CDA.
Entities recognize this deficiency, and already try to cross-reference reports. However, the law has not caught up. While the law should maintain the Registry as the entity responsible for centralization of statistics, it should be amended to allow reports under Section 6 to be made to any of the four entities.
An attempted amendment in 2016 contemplated this. It aimed to expand the receiving entities, while preserving centralized statistics by requiring them to “transmit an accurate record” of each report. We, at JFJ, unreservedly recommend this approach.