Recent statistics released for the year 2023 indicate a decline in reported cases of child abuse but Fiji’s Minister for Women and Children, Lynda Tabuya, urges caution in interpreting this decrease, citing ongoing reporting in the second half of the year and the continuing trend of known perpetrators, especially immediate family members.
In a parliamentary statement this month, she disclosed that there were 1,200 cases reported between January and July of the previous year, compared to 956 cases reported for the same period this year. A significant portion (80% in 2022 and 75% in 2023) of perpetrators are known to the victims, and, a large majority of these known perpetrators are immediate family members (60% in 2022 and 70% in 2023).
A breakdown of the 2022 figures showed that 54% of child victims were girls, and 68% of cases involved child neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Of the perpetrators, 80% were known to the victims, with 60% of them being immediate family members. For the same period in 2023, the gender disparity among victims remained consistent, with 54% being girls. However, 75% of cases were linked to various forms of abuse, including neglect, physical abuse, behavioral issues, and sexual abuse. In 2023, 75% of perpetrators were known to the victims, and 70% of these were immediate family members.
In both years, a significant proportion of child victims in both years were under the age of 12, and, a concerning percentage of victims were below the age of 1 (3.7% in 2022 and 4% in 2023).
Tabuya said the statistics highlight the necessity for collaboration among all stakeholders. The government, she says has acknowledged this need by allocating a $100,000 budget for the establishment of a dedicated Department for Children, with assurances of adequate resourcing for child protection and related initiatives.
In response, Leader of Opposition designate Jone Usamate echoed the importance of addressing violence against children collectively including the churches, communities, and individuals, to combat child abuse and neglect, and commended the government’s initiatives.
Speaker of the House Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu also shared his concerns, pleading with the MPs to take a collective position on the matter, saying their statements and symbolic gestures like the frangipani lapel pins should be accompanied by concrete efforts to tackle the root causes of violence against children.
“We all have a vested interest in this because they are our future, they are our children. But if this statement is just going to be made and then passed through without any collective effort from us, or from you honourable Members, then the issue will still be an ongoing one, without any hopeful decision to address the very source of the problem and that is from the family, from the mataqali,” Ratu Naiqama said.
“I just said the other day that I almost ran into some, they were crossing the street at Nabukalou to go below the bridge. That is where they spend most of their evenings. They are our people.
“I sincerely ask both sides of Parliament to, please, if we could play a much more active role on this, rather than the initiative on the yellow bua, where the ‘bua’ comes from, where the name comes from. It is good, but does it address the issue or is that just another lapel pin on your jacket there? I like the yellow ribbon concept, they got the vanua involved, they got the people involved, yet we still have people frequently in the prisons every now and again. They get free food, free medical supplies, free medical check-up when in prison, even though the conviction is added to your history. That is all that I want to raise as a matter of concern because every now and again, we will get this kind of statement, but what have we done to address the issue?
“I leave that to you and plead with you that we need to take a collective position on this.”