The society is now in trauma over the obvious brutality to which two-year-old Aaliyah Johnson was subjected before what must have been a death of pure agony. But we have walked this road before with Akiel Chambers, Amy Annamunthodo, Josiah Governor and dozens of others over the last decade and more. There seems to be no slowing down or change to the brutality that attends the violent and sexual abuse of the children.
What is more, parents, relatives, neighbours, the police, the courts, religious organisations, governments, all seem helpless to bring an end to this inhumanity against the innocent. Nonetheless, the society-both as institutions and as individuals-must attempt to do a few obvious but neglected things.
One of them is a return to the very successful community policing project which once existed. This method of encouraging positive behaviours in communities, and for police officers to become part of those population centres, is a component of the 21st-century policing initiative, in that police officers are assigned to patrol communities rather than remaining aloof in police stations.
It is good to hear, too, from Minister Verna St Rose-Greaves that the Government and the Opposition are co-operating to pass the Children Bill into law, with all of the necessary elements and the institutional framework to make the legislation effective. Previous and present governments have sought to make political mileage out of this necessary set of safeguards against inhumanity to children.
A very important adjunct to the legislative framework is that the Ministry of the People must launch a national education campaign. Included in this awareness programme must be information to assist friends, neighbours, and teachers, even parents to recognise the signs that a child is being abused in one form or the other, and to understand what constitutes abuse.
As in many previous instances, one parent may be innocent of what is taking place, or in a position of weakness, feeling incapable of doing anything about the abuse taking place right in the home. In such instances, intervention by friends, neighbours and close relatives is necessary to stem the abuse and bring it to the attention of the police-perhaps the community police.
Mothers especially often feel themselves trapped in a situation in which they too are victims of abuse and unable to get around the criminal in the home who is perpetuating the physical, emotional or sexual abuse against the child. The community must provide assistance to such women boxed into violent and abusive relationships.
Very often in such relationships, the victim, whether adult or child, has been led to believe that the violence or abuse is deserved, and thus may not even recognise it as abuse at all. This is why the victim may never ask for help, no matter how bad it becomes.
Non-governmental organisations, community and religious groups can surely engage in productive information and intervention programmes to turn this violence around. Ultimately, however, there must be a dramatic change in the way parents treat with their children. That 180-degree change must start with the education of young people in the primary, secondary and tertiary-level learning institutions, before they themselves become parents.
In addition to teaching the academic, technical, professional curricula, young people must be positively socialised in the home. The value of human relationships, and the way children should be treated, cherished and protected are lessons that have not been sufficiently planted in the culture.
It is not enough, although very necessary, to depend on the criminal justice system. That merely metes out punishment after the fact, and such punishment never prevented one child from being abused.