‘Never again’

A four-year-old girl is dead.

We do not yet know the specifics of how or why, but preliminary reports from police about the death of Bella Walker indicate she died terribly.

Police said the child was brought into Princess Margaret Hospital non-responsive Friday afternoon following an assault and succumbed to her injuries.

A man and woman are in custody.

The public is rightly outraged.

No child should suffer abuse in our society, much less be killed by it.

And all adults in society should work to protect them.

If accounts of her neighbors reported by Eyewitness News are correct, then the child was failed on multiple levels.

Adults do not have the luxury of remaining silent when children are even thought to be in a harmful situation.

There is a moral and legal obligation to alert the authorities.

Section 63 of the Child Protection Act states, “Every person who has information indicating that a child is suffering or has suffered significant harm, shall forthwith report that information to the director [of Social Services].”

Private citizens do not have the luxury of turning a blind eye to potential abuse.

A four-year-old being left alone at home for any period of time, as some neighbors have reported, is suffering significant harm.

The law also outlines that anyone who performs professional or official duties with respect to a child – including a physician, nurse, dentist, pharmacist, psychologist or other healthcare professional; a school principal, teacher, counselor, social worker, youth or recreational leader, member of the clergy or child care worker; or a police officer, probation officer or youth care worker — who “in the course of that person’s professional or official duties, has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is suffering or has suffered significant harm, shall forthwith report the suspicion to the director”.

Many have called for stronger child protection laws.

While it is necessary to consistently review legislation to make sure that it meets the current needs of society, we already have strong child protection laws in place.

Sex with an underage child currently carries a penalty of up to life in prison in The Bahamas, yet many men are consistently charged with this crime.

If the reports surrounding Bella’s death are true, had those who had an inkling something untoward was occurring simply followed the law, she may be alive today.

And beyond our outrage, if we are to become serious as a nation about keeping our children safe, we need to seek to treat all child abuse with equal regard.

For many who decry what has happened to Bella, they themselves beat their own children.

It is time for The Bahamas to do away with corporal punishment entirely – in schools and in homes.

The limitations in law are too often blurred to become indistinguishable from outright abuse.

Additionally, we cannot say we are determined to prevent child abuse when so many in society drift so casually into the narrative of blaming the victim when prepubescent and teenage girls are reported missing.

Often, the public blames the minor children for having relationships they cannot consent to while overlooking the adult male predators they are often found with.

Just last week, at least two girls were reported missing in this country.

It raised barely a blip on the national radar.

All children also include boys; particularly those who come from disadvantaged homes who are frequent targets of adult predators.

It is with great sadness we recall the fate of the four young men murdered in Grand Bahama by serial killer Cordell Farrington, who lured young packing boys into his deadly clutches with gifts.

In a message from the Office of the Spouse about Bella’s death, and the current conversation around child abuse, Ann Marie Davis correctly stated, “There is more than sufficient blame to go around for our societal failings in this regard.”

As Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis also correctly pointed out yesterday, not only lawmakers are responsible for protecting our children.

“It goes far beyond what our laws can achieve and to the very idea of who we are,” the prime minister said.

“There are those in every society whose transgressions defy comprehension. Our job is to do what is necessary to prevent it. Never again, never again should this be allowed to happen.”

Baby Bella is gone now – what an indescribable tragedy.

We can now look toward making sure justice is served.

And we can honor her memory not only by calling for stronger laws, but by taking a more honest look at our shortcomings.

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