Eternal vigilance necessary
Kaieteur News
July 20, 2004

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If Guyana is to make meaningful progress in the battle against child abuse, social workers need to encourage neighbours and communities to be eternally vigilant and get more actively involved in detecting and reporting instances of such abuse.

The value of neighbourhood vigilance and intervention in cases of child abuse was highlighted in an incident in Georgetown last Friday. It reportedly took timely action by a neighbour for a 12-year-old boy to be rescued by a probation officer attached to the Drop-In Centre in Hadfield Street, after he was allegedly beaten mercilessly by his grandfather. The neighbour alerted the centre after reportedly hearing sounds of the child being violently abused.

This was an unusual intervention in an all-too-familiar case. The boy was reportedly a long-time victim of abuse whose case had already drawn the attention of a probation officer. Neighbours interviewed by Kaieteur News reported that the boy was beaten daily for the least offence, real or imagined.

This case teaches some important lessons about the state of child abuse in Guyana and what needs to be done to address this problem.

In the first place, the boy was a virtual orphan who fell into the hands of his grandparents because his father died and his mother was in prison. Countless children have become vulnerable to abuse because their parents abandoned them or were not around to look after them for one reason or another. There is no question that many children are abused by their own parents, but it seems that parentless children, who end up having to fend for themselves or find themselves in the care of questionable guardians or benefactors, are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

A critical question comes to mind: what can be done to improve Guyana’s capacity to monitor the welfare of children who have lost their parents or are in abnormal family situations?

In the second place, this child was not one who had slipped through the holes in Guyana’s social and welfare system. From all reports, the boy was already reportedly benefiting from the intervention of a probation officer at the time the incident was said to have occurred.

However, his interaction with the probation officer did not prevent him from the alleged abuse that brought his case to the public’s attention. By all accounts, the boy’s relationship with his probation officer was extremely positive, yet neighbours said this was not the first time he had to be rescued by the Drop-In Centre.

If so, an obvious question arises: how come he was still being abused while his case was being monitored by a professional social worker? It would be interesting to learn why the boy was not removed from the household as soon as it became known that he was being abused.

It is well worth noting that the abuse the boy suffered apparently had an adverse effect on his ability to interact with his peers.

When Kaieteur News interviewed the boy, he said that the Ministry of Culture Summer School did not want to take him anymore because he had a problem with another child there.

This suggests that he was exhibiting dysfunctional behaviour himself. This is a very familiar consequence of abuse, leading to the vicious cycle in which those, who are abused as children, end up becoming abusive themselves.

Despite all the negatives, the most significant lesson of this case is positive. More than anything else, this incident underscores the need for Guyanese in all neighbourhoods to keep their eyes and ears open for signs of child abuse in their communities and immediately report these to the police.

The problem of child abuse is much too big for the victims, the police, the government and social workers to handle alone; it requires a concerted effort by all concerned citizens.

All right-thinking Guyanese have to play their part by their eternal vigilance to rid Guyana’s most precious resources — our children — of the spectre of child abuse.