In the House of Assembly, Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin recently informed parliamentarians that reported child abuse cases on Grand Bahama up to September increased over 2012 by 32 percent.
There were 140 cases of reported child abuse and neglect from January to December 2012.
During the period of January to September of 2013, the Child Welfare Unit on Grand Bahama received 185 reports of child abuse.
These cases include sexual, physical, mental and verbal abuse, neglect and abandonment.
Griffin said child abuse statistics over the past few years show that incest is a problem that is continuously “swept under the carpet.”
Another emerging trend, according to the minister, in child abuse cases involves men abusing the children of a girlfriend.
“You have to be careful who you bring into your house when you have children in your house,” she warned.
“And God forbid, don’t leave your children with these men.”
Her comments came as she contributed to debate on amendments to the Sexual Offences Act and the Child Protection Act, which would create a sex offender register and an alert for missing children.
Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage, who led the debate, told the House that there is a “mini-epidemic” of deviant sexual behavior against children that the country has to deal with.
He said he made it his mission to bring laws to Parliament to fight this kind of abuse.
The statistics in Grand Bahama are concerning. The increase could come from more abuse happening or more people reporting cases of abuse.
It is unclear what is driving the data.
In order to lessen the likelihood of abuse, parents and guardians must watch their children more carefully and be aware of where they are.
Abusers are usually known to the children harmed. Relatives, neighbors and friends are the people all parents and guardians should keep the closest eye on. Cases of abduction and abuse by strangers are often highly publicized.
However, they are rare as compared to abuse by people close to the child.
We must not be shy about educating our children about appropriate contact and relationships. We must also keep open channels of communication with them so that if something harmful happens they feel comfortable enough to tell us.
And when abuse is reported, we need to inform authorities and prosecute perpetrators so that these depraved individuals are taken out of our communities.
We cannot just keep cases of abuse quiet out of a misguided embarrassment.
That protects abusers, allowing them to continue harming children. Silence does not end the cycle.