Usually at this time of year, peace, joy and goodwill ought to be extended to all, especially after a difficult and trying year.
But there are also glaring truths that force us to confront and root out the ugliness in our society regardless of the season.
Abuse in all its forms is dreadful, long-lasting and persistent. It has no place in a healthy, progressive society.
Indeed, it is hard to imagine anything worse than causing a child to suffer on purpose, be it sexual, physical, or verbal.
But this is the everyday story of life for far too many Barbadian children.
This week, the former magistrate and presiding judge of the Juvenile Court, Faith Marshall-Harris, now UNICEF Children’s Champion delivered distressing news of an alarming increase in child abuse complaints to the FMH (Faith Marshall-Harris) SLCT (Sandy Lane Charitable Trust) Helpline.
She told Barbados TODAY that over the past four weeks, the helpline received 20 abuse-related calls, which included 16-year-old girls complaining that their parents were seeking to throw them out of the home.
In addition, she revealed the case of a young woman, trying to study for CXC, who was attacked by her mother who claimed her studies were interfering with the family’s social life. Marshall-Harris said the girl’s mother pushed her down a flight of stairs and told her not to return.
“Saying to a child, ‘I am sorry I didn’t abort you’, is abuse,” the child rights advocate said. “It is cruel and abusive.
“Saying to a child, ‘I don’t know why you don’t go and kill yourself’, is abusive and that is the sort of language that has been out there for a long time.
“I think what has become acute now is that during this pandemic, a lot of these issues seem to have spiked.”
A pandemic need not confirm the existence of abhorrent cruelty, viciousness and sheer wanton exploitation of children in this country. It has only served as cover for even more egregious acts against our youngest and most defenceless.
Even here, where we boldly declare that children are the future, our actions – and our silence – suggest that nothing has changed over the decades of social progress: children should be ‘seen and not heard’. This dictum now seems to extend to their abuse, seldom heard and somehow never seen by the wider society, a ghost in search of some apparition in order to be believed.
Worst, some erroneously believe that because they have mothered or fathered a child that gives them the right to treat their offspring however they want. Sadly, too many children are forced to endure a tormented childhood and then later, society has to grapple with angry, vengeful, abusive adults.
We have also somehow foolishly accepted the notion that out of respect for some families, not talking about child abuse or neglect might seem like the right thing to do. No society is safe when those who abuse or neglect children are not held accountable.
We support the call by the UNICEF Children Champion for Government to fast-track long-awaited child rights legislation in the new year.
Our society must confront and destroy elements in our culture that seek to enable child abuse. Government first must clearly articulate policies that safeguard the rights of every child. Then our courts of justice must be prepared to mete justice unequivocally and intolerantly against the perpetrators.
But laws will be worth less than the paper they are printed on if we are not of the mindset that child abuse, sexual, physical and verbal, are crimes, too.
All of us are involved with children, whether in school, on the block, or at church. We are aunts, uncles, neighbours, cousins, friends, grandmothers, godfathers, teachers.
We must do more to protect our children and seek help for parents who can’t cope.
If it takes a village to raise a child, we need a committed government and a vigilant caring public to raise this nation justly, safely and securely.