Minister for Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations, Hon. Alvina Reynolds lamented the heinous death of 4 year old Millan Jn Baptiste who was at the time in the care of his stepmother and father, the physical abuse of another 4 year old from Coolie Town by his father and “the many other Millans out there” as reported by the Director of Human Services, Elizabeth Lewis.
The Minister said it’s a very sad situation when children at that age can be abused in the name of punishment or discipline. “It speaks to many many things, poor parenting skills, persons who do not know how to nurture children. But more than that it speaks to I think, evil in some cases because children are so vulnerable, children can’t harm anybody. They make mistakes and that’s why we as adults are here to guide them. But the manner that we use the strategies that we use to discipline and to punish they are harming children, they are hurting children, they are killing children.”
She reference the catch phrase, “When a man beats his woman it’s called domestic violence,” in a calypso sang by Junior Calypsonian Mighty J from the Gros Islet Primary School. Reynolds stated however that some parents feel they have a right to beat, slap or starve their children.
“No, they are human beings too. They are our precious gifts that are given to us to protect, to love, to care for and to help raise them to become loving, productive members of our society. When we beat them, abuse them, slap them all over the place they grow up to become creatures of hate and they will come back for us. This is a cycle that we must stop.” Reynolds asserted.
She said these abused children can grow up angry and inflict the same level of hurt on their girlfriends, wives and mothers in the house because of what they endured in their childhood days.
“I am not saying that we should not discipline. Sparing the rod doesn’t mean you have to break a rod. For us it could also mean do not spare the children when its time to discipline them. We can discipline with love. We can pull out privileges, we can keep them home when we know there are things they absolutely what to do or to go or don’t buy them the fancy things. But we cannot starve them. We cannot have all the blisters on their skin. This has to stop.” The minister lamented.
Though expressing sorrow for the physical abuse mitten out to Millan and the 4 year old from Collie Town, the minister was resolute in continuing the ministry’s “Breaking The Silence” campaign on child abuse.
“This time it’s not only about sexual abuse but abuse in all its forms. It is verbal with the name calling, it is psychological, it is mental, it is physical, it is sexual. I want to call on the entire society of St. Lucia.” Reynolds said.
She stated that parenting programmes have been ongoing for some young, stressed parents who don’t possess the wherewithal to cope with their situation. She called on church leaders, preschool teachers in particular to speak up and report questionable behaviors, signs or marks on the skin of the children in their care.
“I call on leaders of clubs and community groups across this country. This is a small country, we are all in some way related. How can we as a big family allow that to happen to our children? It’s an indictment on us. So it takes a whole community, the health system, the education sector, youth and sports from contractors and engineers, minibus drivers, everyone. We have a responsibility to protect our children.” Reynolds asserted.
She said the Division of Human Services will step in to protect children when parents can’t cope with their personal, financial or mental situations and become explosive with their children.
“But off course the agencies must be made aware, not only from neighbours but from teachers, from social workers, from educators, from Priests, Pastors, club leaders, they must be made aware and the followup starts. There is for sure the need to increase the number of child protection officers who are taking care of our children in this country, because we are seeing more and more children being brought forward, being abused in the first institution where they should be protected and that is the home.”
The Human Services Minister asserted that when children no longer feel safe in the home this signals a major problem and the government of St. Lucia must respond with more resources, institutional strengthening and foster a more proactive approach at teaching parents how parenting ought to occur and how we go about protecting children.