AT THE OPEN­ING OF THE PRE­VEN­TION OF CHILD ABUSE AND NE­GLECT CEL­E­BRA­TION IN RA. As­sis­tant Min­is­ter chal­lenges adults to be re­spon­si­ble and play our part for a brighter fu­ture for Fiji’s fu­ture lead­ers – our chil­dren, with one sim­ple prin­ci­ple – we must put

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The fol­low­ing is as­si­atant Min­is­ter for Health and Med­i­cal Ser­vices Veena Bhatnagar’s speech dur­ing the the open­ing of the Pre­ven­tion of Child Abuse and Ne­glect cel­e­bra­tion in Ra.

Chil­dren, par­ents, friends, well wish­ers, stake­hold­ers, ladies and gen­tle­man Ni sa Bula vinaka, na­maste, salam waleikum and good morn­ing

Iam de­lighted and priv­i­leged to be here to cel­e­brate with you the In­ter­na­tional Day for Pre­ven­tion of Child Abuse and Ne­glect (PCAN), which is a world-wide ef­fort to recog­nise our col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity to pre­vent and com­bat all forms of child abuse and ne­glect. Child abuse can be pre­vented, but not with­out your help. I am very pas­sion­ate about chil­dren just like all of you, and like any other par­ent, our chil­dren are our God-given gifts that we must con­tinue to pro­tect, nur­ture and ap­pre­ci­ate through­out the phases of child­hood un­til they are able to stand re­spon­si­bly on their own. The theme for our cel­e­bra­tion is “Great Child­hood Be­gins at Home”. I be­lieve that if chil­dren are to get the great child­hoods that they de­serve, we par­ents, grand­par­ents, aunts, un­cles, older sib­lings, as adults must all play our parts start­ing from in­side our homes. We look to Fam­ily when we need help our chil­dren ex­pect par­ents to raise them, grand­par­ents to love them and sib­lings to be there for them through- out the up’s and espe­cially the down turns in life. I be­lieve that the home and fam­ily are the most im­por­tant, the most in­flu­en­tial in­sti­tu­tion in so­ci­ety. When the fam­ily is in trou­ble, the “world” is dis­turbed.

I am a par­ent and I be­lieve that all par­ents, present here this morn­ing, will agree with me that we are our chil­dren’s first teach­ers – we ex­plore with them, we read with them, we play with them, we count with them and the list goes on. A child’s first learn­ing in­sti­tu­tion is the com­fort of their own homes. We can say that a par­ent’s role in their chil­dren’s learn­ing evolves as they grow, one thing re­mains con­stant: we are our chil­dren’s learn­ing mod­els. Par­ents are the most vis­i­ble mod­els of be­hav­iour who shapes a child’s char­ac­ter.

I chal­lenge all par­ents present here this morn­ing, to take our role se­ri­ously in the care for our chil­dren; to ap­pre­ci­ate them; to lis­ten to them; to spend time with them and to love them. Ev­ery­one is here, be­cause we want to make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of our fu­ture lead­ers of Fiji. My Min­istry urges ev­ery­one, young and old, the need to be re­spon­si­ble for our chil­dren and to take time to guide them. Ladies and gen­tle­man, as par­ents and guardians we should ac­cept that we now live in a dif­fer­ent time to when we were raised. That is some­thing we can­not change. But what we can cer­tainly change is the abil­ity in learn­ing to trust our chil­dren, to be sup­port­ive of them and to be there as their cham­pion. We need to find that pas­sion to raise our chil­dren with their iden­tity and their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in both the tra­di­tional and in the con­text of to­day’s space and time. Liv­ing in an in­creas­ingly mod­ernised en­vi­ron­ment has brought its ben­e­fits and chal­lenges. As par­ents we have a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity in the life of our chil­dren. Ladies and gen­tle­man, ac­cord­ing to the re­cent sta­tis­tics col­lated un­der my Min­istry in re­la­tion to Child wel­fare cases on abuse and ne­glect, re­ported cases are in­creas­ing.

To date a to­tal of 725 cases were re­ported to my Min­istry by pro­fes­sion­als un­der the Child Wel­fare De­cree of 2010. The De­cree man­dates pro­fes­sion­als to re­port on the harm or likely harm of a child, to my Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary so that chil­dren can get im­me­di­ate sup­port from So­cial Wel­fare of­fi­cers. The re­ported cases con­tinue to in­crease and we be­lieve these are some ef­fects of the aware­ness cre­ated to in­form the public through com­mu­nity and stake­holder ad­vo­cacy pro­grams pro­vided by the Min­istry and its loyal part­ners. As a Govern­ment Min­istry re­spon­si­ble for the pro­tec­tion of chil­dren, we are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that chil­dren are pro­tected from vi­o­lence, ex­ploita­tion and abuse. Ladies and gen­tle­man, the Govern­ment in­vests in our chil­dren’s pro­tec­tion and de­vel­op­ment through health, ed­u­ca­tion and wel­fare and it is our re­spon­si­bil­ity as par­ents and guardians to do jus­tice to our chil­dren. The Child Ser­vices Unit in the Depart­ment of So­cial Wel­fare has the leg­isla­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the pro­tec­tion of chil­dren and for these, there re spe­cific laws that gov­erns child pro­tec­tion.

In 2015, a Child Help Line was es­tab­lished specif­i­cally to be­come a fo­cal ac­cess point for all chil­dren in Fiji to seek coun­selling, ad­vice, re­fer­rals for ser­vices and to re­port cases of abuse. The num­ber is 1325 and this is a toll free ser­vice. Apart from ad­dress­ing the chal­lenges re­ported by the chil­dren, the child helpline will also pro­vide an ac­cess point for con­cerned adults, par­ents, guardians and ci­ti­zens to ac­cess the helpline to re­port abuse and re­quest for in­for­ma­tion on child re­lated mat­ters. Ladies and gen­tle­man, The cam­paign against child abuse and ne­glect needs to be first un­der­stood and shown in the home front. Let us change our mind-set and show warmth and un­der­stand­ing to our chil­dren.

Let us lis­ten to our chil­dren to get a pic­ture of what chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties they have and how we can as­sist them. Many of our chil­dren end up in the wrong side of the law be­cause the home where love and un­der­stand­ing should be nur­tured is rather cold and volatile for their se­cu­rity. Let us work to­gether so that we com­ple­ment the de­vel­op­ment of a child from in­fancy to young adults. I wish to close with spe­cial em­pha­sis on the Theme “Great Child­hood Be­gins at Home”.

Ba­si­cally, the key to en­sur­ing that we equip a child holis­ti­cally, to be re­spon­si­ble and make in­formed choices on the bound­aries that sur­round them, lies in the hands of their par­ents or guardians.

I chal­lenge all of us to be re­spon­si­ble and play our part for a brighter fu­ture for Fiji’s fu­ture lead­ers. The prin­ci­ple is sim­ple, we must put our chil­dren first as our pri­or­ity. On that note, I now have much plea­sure in declar­ing the Na­tional Pre­ven­tion of Child Abuse Day of­fi­cially open. Thank you for your at­ten­dance to­day and the Min­istry looks for­ward to work­ing with you all to pro­tect the chil­dren of Fiji. Vinaka.

Photo: Min­istry of Health and Med­i­cal Ser­vices

As­si­atant Min­is­ter for Health and Med­i­cal Ser­vices Veena Bhatnagar with women and chil­dren dur­ing the open­ing of the pre­ven­tion of child abuse and ne­glect cel­e­bra­tion in Ra.

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