Rights of a child

As discussions on child protection progress, it is important to focus on cultural underpinnings and mindsets about the rights of a child that in ways not often considered, can contribute to unchecked incidences of child abuse and neglect.

In our culture, a child is not generally viewed as an individual with rights of his or her own which ought to be respected.

Rather, a child is viewed as the property of a parent, whose variable rights are what a parent or adult in society determines.

When a human being is not viewed and respected as an individual regardless of age or size, that individual is invariably at a social disadvantage.

A similar dynamic is seen in cultural ideas about the rights and individuality of a woman in relation to a man, and the way society responds to violations against women based on those ideas.

Internalized ideas about a child’s rights may make some hesitant about reporting suspected child abuse or neglect, believing they have no right to interfere in the superior right of a parent to rear a child how the parent sees fit.

The idea of a child being an individual with rights can seem to run counter to the often embraced idea that a child ought to be seen and not heard, or that a child’s principal purpose is to follow the demands of an adult — even if those demands might threaten the psyche, safety or mental health of the child.

The Child Protection Act is borne out of The Bahamas’ ascension to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, whose articles set out children’s rights which signatories agree to uphold and pursue.

Though in force for over 10 years, facets of the act intended to institutionalize the advancement of a child’s rights have yet to be undertaken, one of which being the establishment of the Office of Minors Advocate.

This office has been established in countries worldwide and throughout the region including Jamaica and Trinidad, and its mandate is to protect and advance the rights and best interests of children, doing so by providing specifically for a child, an advocate who pursues the child’s rights as exist in law.

The Minnis administration pledged to establish the minors advocate office, but did not make good on this pledge, and also pledged to introduce regulations to govern the establishment of a children’s registry as provided for in the act.

A children’s registry contains reports of at-risk children, and children who have been or are likely to be abused or neglected.

The Davis administration’s Blueprint for Change and its Speech from the Throne do not repeat these pledges, and are otherwise weak on childhood development plans apart from those centered on education and future employment.

This, of course, does not mean the administration cannot bring into force outstanding provisions of the Child Protection Act and necessary amendments, and should do so for the benefit of the nation’s children.

Also weak in successive campaign planks over the years have been plans to address statutory and administrative deficiencies with respect to family law, the existence of which can contribute to a child being in the primary custody of a parent who is unfit.

With respect to physical and verbal abuse by a parent, more sensitization and education are necessary on the role of post partum depression in how mothers respond to their children.

Many women who will have recently given birth, together with relatives and the wider society, are unaware of the ways post partum depression can drastically impair a mother’s ability to provide nurture and care.

Some impacted and typically uninformed mothers believe the condition ought only last a short time, though research shows this serious mental health condition can last for years.

To further combat child sexual abuse, schools should play a formalized role in educating students on body autonomy; good and bad touching; and the importance of respecting that no means no where physical or social contact is concerned.

To better advance child protection, we all must see a child as having the same right to life, safety, happiness and expression as adults.

And we must accept that our adulthood does not override these rights all children should enjoy.

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