Social Services Minister Franke Campbell indicated this week that there were increased reports of domestic violence and child abuse during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
Against a backdrop of yearly increases in child abuse reports, his comments came not long after his recent admonition to parents and guardians not to “cross the line” between carrying out discipline and meting out abuse.
Where that line is drawn is one many parents in The Bahamas cannot pinpoint, with some taking offense at the mere notion of calling on parents to know their limits, believing that the same is an attempt to interfere with the way a parent chooses to raise his or her child.
The Penal Code Section 110 draws the line between correction and abuse of a child as a blow or other force that “does not extend to a wound or grievous harm”.
Section 110(6) states: “No correction can be justified which is unreasonable in kind or in degree, regard being had to the age and physical and mental condition of the person on whom it is inflicted; and no correction can be justified in the case of a person who, by reason of tender years or otherwise, is incapable of understanding the purpose for which it is inflicted.”
In our culture, physical force is used as the primary method of punishment because it is the only method many have come to learn as being the manner in which children ought to be properly reared.
Children at the tenderest of ages are beaten simply for being children, not understanding why violence is being inflicted upon them, but adjusting their behavior nonetheless out of fear.
Though many parents believe that beatings, sometimes with belts or other blunt objects, are the best way to keep children in line and out of trouble, they likely do not appreciate that children, like adults, are individuals with rights as human beings that ought to be respected by adults and protected by the state.
Those rights, as adopted by The Bahamas’ ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, include the right to proper care; the right to be protected from abuse and neglect; freedom of expression that does not harm others; and the right to choose their own thoughts and opinions and to share them with others.
What is less well known by Bahamians is a child’s right to his or her own advocacy and legal representation through an Office of Minors Advocate, which has yet to be established though it is provided for in the Child Protection Act.
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.
Deeply ingrained cultural mindsets that children have no rights save for what parents decide they should have, and that the role of children in our society does not rise far above that of being the property of a parent, keeps the society from seeing the need to pressure government to give children the protection and advocacy services intended for them in legislation enacted especially for the nation’s youth.
The government in its Speech from the Throne pledged to “bring the Child Protection Act 2007 into full force, by establishing regulations to govern the Children’s Registry and for the creation of the office of Minors Advocate”.
The Minnis administration has not advised on progress, if any, toward making good on this pledge, nor has it indicated whether it intends to fulfill this pledge before the end of its term.
Every adult we experience as abusive or a hindrance to progress began as a child, who more often than not needed protection, recognition and loving guidance they did not receive in their formative years.
When a nation fails its children, it fails itself and sets itself up to be a society dominated by adults whose actions and thoughts toward others are guided by their wounded inner child, rather than by an identity nurtured within a culture of protection, affirmation and support.
Upholding and advancing the rights of the nation’s children is the among the greatest of investments toward the ongoing goal of nation-building, and ought to be among the country’s most resourced objectives.
What The Bahamas can be depends on who and what we enable the nation’s children to be.