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Too many gaps

Monday, March 6 2017

IT IS NOT only the archaic practice of child marriage that poses a threat to the welfare of our children.

A recent report about an eight-year-old child being rescued after years of abuse at the hands of a relative is a reminder of glaring deficiencies that exist in our State systems and in social awareness.

There are simply too many gaps. Untold numbers of cases are likely slipping through the cracks.

While some attention has been paid to the conduct of the Children’s Authority in the recent case, we do not think it fair to question the actions adopted by the Authority without a full understanding of the facts.

And because the case involves a minor, many aspects of it must remain confidential. The Authority is not in any position to defend itself, nor should it be forced to engage in public debate over what should have be done in this sensitive case.

It must also be remembered that child rescue is not just a simple matter of finding a safe house and placing a child in it.

A complex matrix of factors must be examined. Things officials might consider include the welfare of the child, the impact of being close to relatives as opposed to strangers, the availability of suitable locations. None of this is clear cut.

What we can question is whether the Authority has enough resources to act speedily on reports sent to it. If the Authority was unable to act on a report made in January, why was this the case? It has been suggested the nature of the report made a difference in the response.

However, we find this an unconvincing basis upon which to differentiate degrees of urgency.

Surely any report involving the interests of a child deserves urgent attention? However, none of this should make us lose sight of other glaring matters. The biggest issue raised by the recent report is the fact that a known sexual offender seems to have been able to function unhindered in a community.

We must ask: what is the status of efforts to examine the sexual offenders’ registry? That registry is kept private for law enforcement officials and other State officers. However, we feel there is enough basis to make such a registry more widely available to give communities the information they need to take precautions.

It is true there is a risk of acts of vigilante justice. However, it seems clear enough that information about the offender in this particular case was already public information. A relative of the abused child states she though the offender, “was over that”. Was there a need for the community as a whole to have more information about this offender? Was the offender not a risk to other children or persons in the vicinity? The State has to take a closer look at how a registry available to parents might work.

Related to this is the vital question of treatment and rehabilitation.

If it is true the offender in the case is a repeat offender, this is a clear sign of a need for more facilities to help counsel persons found to cross the line.

But more importantly, there needs to be counselling for the victims. Somewhere out there is a prior child whose case may have slipped the radar. Who was lobbying on her behalf? Who was seeking her interests as this offender moved on the next subject of his proclivities? People can bad-talk the Children’s Authority — which has been making strides — all they want. The real issue is the system in which the Authority functions.

It must be remembered the Authority is relatively new and the enormous extent of the problem it is meant to address is only now becoming clearer.



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