KNOWLEDGE, ATTITUDE & PRACTICES ON the Prevention of Child Abuse and the Support to Children who have been abused.


Violence meted out to children is not a new phenomenon and is not confined to Guyana and the Caribbean. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), violence is deliberate interpersonal behaviour liable to cause physical or psychological harm. This study focused on four types/ forms of violence – (1) Neglect (2) verbal abuse (3) physical abuse and (4) sexual abuse.

The main objective of the study is to gather and establish Relevant Baseline Information on the prevention of and responses to child abuse including the child protection system in a community setting. The Knowledge, Attitude and Practices on the prevention of child abuse and the support to children who have been abused were examined. The information is expected to be used as a guide to inform the planning process for the Pickney Project, a joint initiative being undertaken by EveryChild Guyana and Help and Shelter. The key goal of the project is to improve the lives of children experiencing violence and abuse, as well as other vulnerable children at risk in selected communities. The project strategically aims to promote the safety and protection of children.

The study’s findings indicate that there is a disturbing pattern of violence against children in Sophia. There is evidence of neglect, verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Instances of abandonment were also drawn to the researcher’s attention. (See Case Study in Appendix). This evidence of pediatric abandonment indicates that the issue of separation does arise.

It is significant to note that the violent acts took place in the confines of the children’s homes and were perpetuated mainly by family members/a stepfather/mother or friends and acquaintances, which supports the findings of the Voices of Children: Experiences of Children with Violence Study (2005). That study found that “children are most at risk of violence in their own environments and with persons who they consider to be friends or family”.1

The study’s findings showed that some children spend prolonged periods, unsupervised by their caregivers. One reason advanced for this phenomenon was working parents who managed homes singly. This situation created an enabling environment for children to absent themselves from school which appeared to be a trend in the area. School aged boys spend the day engaged in activities such as swimming and fishing as well as performing menial tasks for which they were paid e.g. fetching pails of water and filling yards with dirt . On the other hand, school aged girls were observed completing chores around the home and doing errands, e.g. – going to neighborhood shops. These activities were observed while the Study was being undertaken during school hours.

An examination of data from the Ministry of Health, Maternal and Child Care Clinic in the area showed alarming rates for teen pregnancies. Of 225 recorded pregnancies from January 2006- December 1, 2007, 58/26% were teen mothers. Further, for the period anuary to March 2008, of the 36 recorded pregnancies, 13/36% were teenagers. This increase is raises numerous questions. Some of these include what are the Knowledge, Attitude and Practices regarding sexual activity at an early age as well as the use of Birth Control Methods. It also raises questions about the future of the young mother and that of her infant. The high levels of teen pregnancy evident in the community increases the risk of abandonment, neglect and hence separation. Teen mothers are more likely to become single parents, are more predisposed to experiencing higher levels of poverty and consequently are at higher risk of neglecting or abandoning their off spring.

There was a clear understanding of the issue of abuse on the part of caregivers – what constitutes it and the different types of abuse. The findings established that the knowledge base existed.

In terms of the attitudes, care givers were sympathetic towards the abused child, but this did not always translate to the practice of intervention – whether by making a report to an agency concerned with Child Protection or confronting the abuser. Invariably, persons were concerned about their own safety, uncertain whether the report would be treated with strictest confidence.

The institutions in the community – Schools, Health Centre and Religious bodies were a lot more methodological in treating issues of abuse. Once they received knowledge/ became aware of abuse they were inclined to intervene. Their practice was to refer the matter to the police or another institution/agency, concerned with the protection of children.

Notwithstanding the presence and approaches of the institutions mentioned in the foregoing paragraph, there was no agency with a mandate for child protection in the community. Survivors of Child abuse had no organized support system within their immediate environs. Intervention was ad hoc and followed no established set of procedures.

The study establishes that some of the abuse suffered by children is a result of caregivers’ beliefs and value systems. Some believed it was acceptable to flog children, and even the children felt that they should be punished (by being beaten) for infractions in the home/school.

This research found that the most prevalent form of abuse meted out to children in Sophia was neglect. One hundred and thirty one (80%) of the sample frame opined that child neglect does exist in the community (see figure 4). This figure should not be treated lightly especially being cognizant of the fact that child abuse is one leading causes of Separation (Patterson. 2005). This was followed by verbal abuse. Physical abuse was rated third, followed by sexual abuse. Of all the forms of abuse, the latter (sexual abuse) incurred the greatest level of intolerance.
The findings indicate that there is urgency for stronger collaborative efforts on the part of EveryChild Guyana, Help and Shelter, and other agencies concerned with Child Protection. This is especially so considering the high levels of neglect, physical and sexual abuse. Teen pregnancy and the existence of pediatric abandonment cannot be ignored in the Sophia community as all these suggest that separation of a significant number of children from their families may be imminent.

[Please note that there is an errata sheet for page 2 in which the cases for the sexual abuse of boys should be 2.5% and not 25%]

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