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The 2018 Awareness Programme on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (PCAN)

November 9, 2018       Grand Pacific Hotel, Suva.

The Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Honourable Mereseini Vuniwaqa

Your Excellencies the Ambassadors and High Commissioners and members of the Diplomatic Corps

Development Partners and Stakeholders

Distinguished guests

Ladies, Gentlemen and Children

Ni sa Bula Vinaka and a very warm greeting to each one of you. My wife Sarote and I are deeply honoured to be here with you all today to officially launch the 2018 Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect awareness programme.

I am very happy that we are staging this event immediately after our nation celebrated Diwali – the Festival of Lights. The essence of Diwali is the victory of light over darkness. In this context, one of the dark aspects that we have to conquer as a nation is the neglect and abuse of our children.

The Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, or P-CAN (pronounced Pee-Can) for short, is observed globally in November every year. PCAN is a world-wide effort to mobilise our collective responsibility to prevent and confront all forms of child abuse and neglect.

I am advised that today’s event is really the culmination of a series of awareness programmes that have been undertaken throughout the year, and specifically to introduce “Charlie the Child Helpline Turtle”.  As you heard earlier, “Charlie the Child Helpline Turtle” will become the mascot that will help our children easily identify with our efforts to provide a safe environment for all of them. 

Additionally, today’s programme re-emphasizes the importance of Child Protection for every child in Fiji and how we must work together to address the cruel realities of life.

Sadly, recent statistics reveal an alarming magnitude of both child abuse and neglect. For instance, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution reported over 300 cases of rape and sexual offences on children during the eight months period from January to August of this year. This means that for the past eight months, more than one child were being neglected and abused each day. 

In launching PCAN 2018, I to appeal to all parents and guardians to take more care and responsibility in looking after our children.  The fact that many children are being neglected and abused means that many parents are neglecting their own roles and responsibilities, and that is to provide a safe environment for their children to live decent and happy lives. 

I am aware that Government, together with development partners and key stakeholders continue to strengthen efforts for the development and the advancement of child protection legislation, policies, and programmes of assistance.

The launching of PCAN 2018 with the theme “Stronger Families, Safer Children” is aimed at appealing to all parents and stakeholders to double our efforts to provide the best environment for our children. 

As a Nation, Fiji ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993. The Convention is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. Each right spelled out in the Convention is inherent to the human dignity and harmonious development of every child.

Fiji introduced the “Bill of Rights” in our Constitution of 2013 in response to the strong wishes of our people. The Constitution provides for a wide range of socio-economic rights. These include the right to education, access to health care, housing and sanitation, reasonable access to transportation, food security and safe water, and social security schemes, among others.

Section 41 of the 2013 Constitution specifically points out the responsibility of both parents of a child whether or not the parents are, or have ever been, married to each other; and whether or not the parents are living together, have lived together, or are separated. These are serious responsibilities that all parents need to note and implement.

The 2013 Constitution is also the first Fijian Constitution to articulate specific rights for persons with disabilities and for all children. It also outlaws any form of discrimination based on sex and gender. 

Ladies and gentlemen, over the recent decade, Fiji has either introduced or strengthened various legislations, policies and programmes of services to assist our children. They include the following:

The Crimes Act of 2009, which makes provision for the protection of children from forcible transfer, enslavement, trafficking, defilement and other situations of abuse;

The Domestic Violence Act of 2009, which protects children from domestic violence situations and provides greater access to justice for women and children;

The Child Welfare Act of 2010, which encourages all professionals who become aware or reasonably suspects during the practice of his or her profession that a child has been or is being, or is likely to be harmed must immediately notify the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation;

The Child Protection Policy was developed in 2010 and has since been reviewed through wide consultation. Today the Policy is being implemented throughout the primary schools, secondary schools and vocational facilities across the country. This also contributes to the footprint of the Ministry of Education’s contribution towards the achievement of the Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child;

Fiji acceded to the International Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption in 2012, and in 2014, the Fijian Government endorsed the international protocols that enables Fiji to implement a wider inter-country adoption arrangement that is not restrictive to a particular country. 

The Hague Convention will provide a water-tight arrangement through a cooperative framework established by means of an agreed term of responsibility;

The National Climate Change Policy of 2012 incorporates the Child Centered Climate Change Adaptation Project that is focused on increasing awareness and capacity of children, youth and communities on climate change related disasters enabling the facilitation of contextualized adaptation processes with climate smart solutions to identified issues.

Another form of support coordinated by Government is the National Coordinating Committee on Children (NCCC). 

Through this approach, we are continuously challenged to monitor, trend and work with partners in creating solutions to assist in addressing the issues relating to child protection. A common limitation in collaboration to identify and provide relevant interventions is the lack of data. This of course calls for smarter solutions;

The Care and Protection Programme is a monthly assistance initiative to address the social protection for children often targeting families that have encountered the loss of a breadwinner, single parents, prisoner dependents, and children placed under the care of the State;

The Child Protection Services in Government includes representing the best interest of Children who are either victims of abuse and neglect or have become young offenders. 

Such services are also inclusive of facilitating local and overseas adoption;

The Child Help Line (CHL) Fiji was launched in April 2015 and has been in operation for over three years. It is a Government initiative under the Child protection Multi Year Work Plan agreed with UNICEF to provide improved services for the prevention of and response to the abuse of children. The Child Helpline responds to the increasing incidences of child abuse and exploitation which were being reported by authorities and civil society. 

Government has been able to roll out this national initiative through partnership with the Medical Services Pacific (MSP), one of Fiji’s key stakeholders in the effort to protect our children.  MSP operates a 24 hour service. It recently, confirmed an accumulated total of 42,705 calls to the Child Help Line of which 5,113 were genuine calls, 8,413 were prank calls, 10,230 silent calls, 16,337 testing calls and 2,612 voice mail calls. A total of 1,748 male and 3,248 female callers called the helpline to-date.

I am advised that Government is currently finalising the review and streamlining of legislations on Children, that include the Adoption of Infants Act (1978), the Juveniles Act (1973), and the Probation of Offenders Act (1978). Government is also drafting a National Strategy on Child Protection, which is subject for further consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Ladies and gentlemen, I mentioned all these initiatives to demonstrate Fiji’s commitment towards providing the best environment for our children. These are initiatives and partnerships that the Fijian public should know, especially parents and children so that we could collectively work towards nurturing our children to realise their full potential. I am convinced that these initiatives exemplify that we are a nation that is committed to progressively working in collaboration with development partners and stakeholders through legal, policy and programmatic means of ensuring that our children can grow in a safe environment.

 In the next few moments, I will have the honour to launch the Child Help Line mascot “Charlie”. According to the Medical Services Pacific, it was found that the Child Help Line is used mostly by adults to report on child cases. This new concept is to encourage children to use the National Child Helpline to call and voice their concerns. This follows the adage that Children are indeed precious gifts from God and it is our responsibility to care and protect them.

Ladies and Gentleman, I once again appeal to parents and guardians to take note of the initiatives that are in place, and to take greater responsibility for our children.

To all the development partners and stakeholders, I commend your support towards creating awareness to prevent child abuse and neglect within our families and communities.

I now have much pleasure in officially launching the 2018 awareness programme on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, and in launching “Charlie the Child Helpline Turtle.”

Thank you, and May Almighty God bless our children and bless our beloved Nation – Fiji.