Stakeholders Rally Against Child Abuse – Collective Action and Awareness

Between 2016 and 2023, a total of 1,258 children under the age of 18 were sexually abused, with the youngest victim being a six-month-old toddler.

These are but some statistics and details shared during a roundtable discussion in Suva today, featuring various stakeholders discussing child abuse and neglect, and calling for collective action to address the issue and enhance the safety and wellbeing of children.

Leading the convening, the second such gathering on the issue, Assistant Minister for Women, Children, and Social Protection Sashi Kiran said the meeting is to engage all stakeholders in the same space to first determine the status quo in terms of existing child abuse efforts—both advocacy and preventative, identify the gaps, and identify measures to plug those gaps to enhance overall efforts.

“The other day we were talking about sex and kava happening in the same room. In some of the communities where there is overcrowding in houses, children are touched not appropriately from childhood,” Kiran said.

“We have been talking about protection and we are generally very religious people. Why are the dots not connecting? Why are there such high numbers of not only child abuse, even violence against students? Government has raising as much as it can, policy and resourcing, this is a callout to every citizen, what can we do to ensure our children are protected? How can such a small country like ours allow so many of our children to be abused, so this is really a call and a plea that we all need to take action, because the numbers are going up every month.

“Each of these children belong to us, belong to a family and each of these children needs to be protected.”

Sandra Kraushaar, Regional Representative for the Pacific Islands at The Asia Foundation in Suva, where today’s gathering took place, emphasised the significance of hosting such a critical discussion.

She described the statistics on child abuse as shocking and unacceptable – where one in five women report being sexually abused by the age of 18. She also noted that there are several existing policies and structures meant to address the issue. This includes the work led by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Protection and the associated NGOs as outlined in the national action plan to prevent violence against women and girls.

“We also have the Child Welfare Act that refers to the range of organisations and professionals who are mandated to report and act on incidents of abuse. So we’ve got all the structures in place, we’ve got the policies, we’ve got the statistics here to show what’s happening. But, still the incidents grow. So it’s not to say that there hasn’t been amazing work done by all of the organisations around this table and many more, but let’s take the opportunity to think about what can we do as a group to try and raise this issue of grave concern to us all.”

Each stakeholder present discussed their contributions to addressing the increasing cases of child abuse, and renewed collective efforts made in this regard.

Fiji Council of Social Services Executive Director Vani Catanisiga advocated for the reconvening of the National Coordinating Committee on Children (NCCC), in particular to discuss referral systems and capacities to handle the anticipated influx of calls and incident reports following the advocacy campaign.

Discussions also touched on the importance of advocacy and awareness campaigns through social media, training and capacity building for child protection agencies, implementation of existing laws, and awareness around penalties to deter perpetrators. Strategies to address gender-based violence were also discussed, including engaging with religious leaders and communities, advocating for legal reforms, and involving men and boys in challenging harmful gender norms.

Other stakeholders represented included the Fiji Law Society, Medical Services Pacific, Empower Pacific, Homes of Hope, House of Sarah, Medical Services Pacific, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Save the Children Fiji, NCPD, Aruka Fiji, YWCA, and femLINKpacific among others.

Stakeholders will reconvene next month to continue discussions as they work on a social media campaign spotlighting child abuse, raising awareness and promoting prevention measures.

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