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Mar 29, 1999

Stiff penalties for those who do not report abuse

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While the students of S.J.C. took their concerns to the streets, the Minister of Youth Development met with concerned members of the community indoors today to talk about the violence and ways of preventing further incidents. Among the topics was the need for people to report abuse when they see it and what will happen to them if they don’t.

This morning representatives of Government, non-governmental agencies, churches and concerned citizens met indoors to express their views about the escalating incidences of child abuse and murder.

Concerned Citizen #1

“I think the perpetrator should not be given bail. They do get and they do have a right, but I think when it comes to an issue like child abuse they should not be given bail.”

Concerned Citizen #2

“I am just saying let’s look at all angles. We are talking about putting manpower in punishing people but we are not looking at putting manpower in preventing the crime from happening.”

Concerned Citizen #3

“More crimes occur within the home today, sexual crimes than the seven or eight documented cases that we can talk about today, far more. What are we doing about these?”

Concerned Citizen #4

“Why is it that we have to wait until the crime is committed? Prevention is better than cure.”

There were many issues discussed during the press conference which was hosted by Dolores Balderamos Garcia, the Minister of Human Development, Women and Youth. Garcia also spoke about a new law she will be signing that pertains to Families and Children (Child Abuse Reporting) Regulations of 1999.

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development

“What will it do Jackie? It will make everyone in society be aware of the importance of letting the proper authorities know when there are cases of child abuse. I don’t want to stress on the penalty although the penalty is fairly stiff it can be up to a thousand dollars or six months imprisonment or both. What I want to stress is the responsibility that everyone out there has now to respond to cases of child abuse and neglect. Not only social workers; not only medical health workers, but also parents, teachers, community workers. I think we all need to know that we cannot turn a blind eye to cases of child abuse and neglect. That is how I see the responses being strengthened because we are putting a little bit of teeth into it right now and working together with our Parent Teachers Association in our schools.”

One woman who has been fighting for years to protect our children is Lorna McDougal, the Director for the National Organization for the Prevention of Child Abuse. McDougal says although she has been overwhelmed by the recent heightened awareness on child abuse, she says it is unfortunate it had taken the deaths of Sherilee Nicholas, Samantha Gordon, Rebecca Gilharry and Jackie Fern Malic to see any firm action take place.

Lorna McDougal, Director, NOPCA

“It is sad that it had to take that for this kind of action to emerge. As you say we have been talking about child abuse since 1992. We have been like the lone voice calling out in the wilderness and there was a lot of denial, skepticism, cynicism about the whole issue of child abuse but now it is out in the open and the silence has been broken so to speak. And I am indeed happy that the community has become involved and that there is this energy, this kind of energy, that has awaken the consciousness of people, and that people are now willing to do something about it.”

McDougal says she hopes the awareness and public support will not be short-lived as we continue to do our part in addressing the problem of child abuse and bring those guilty to justice. So far the police have made no arrests in connection with the brutal killings of Sherilee Nicholas, Samantha Gordon nor Jackie Malic. During the press conference the participants also became upset when they learned that the two suspects C.I.B. had detained in connection with Malic’s murder have been released due to lack of substantial evidence. The seventy hours the police are allowed to detain someone had expired. A.I.P. Simeon Alvarez, Head of C.I.B. in his address said it is vital for the general public to get more involved.

A.I.P. Simeon Alvarez, Head of C.I.B.

“Indeed we have three cases that are unsolved at this time but again we have to understand that without the assistance of the general public the police will not be able to solve these heinous types of crimes. And definite I am of the belief that someone is out there who saw when these crimes were committed and if these people would come forward to the police the crime will be solved.”

During this morning press conference, Lisa Shoman chairman of the Belize Telecommunications Limited also announced that they will be giving NOPCA and the Family Services Division two free hotlines in the effort to help stamp out child abuse.

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