April 27, 2018 | Kingston, Jamaica | Nigel Coke/IAD Staff

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica is calling on its more than 300,000 members, other church groups and the wider society to take a stand against violence and abuse of all kind especially against children and adolescent.

“The victims should be our priority. It cannot be about saving face, it’s about saving lives,” said Dr. Lorraine Vernal, family, women, child and adolescent director for the church in Jamaica as she addressed members of the press during the launch of the Year of Child and Adolescent at the church’s regional headquarters in Kingston on April 24, 2018.

Dr. Lorraine Vernal, family, women, children and adolescent director for the church in Jamaica deliversthe main address on April 24, 2018. Photo by Nigel Coke

“Let us be intentional as parents, teachers and authority figures about learning the difference between abuse and discipline,” said Vernal. “We must break the silence about all types of abuse and report them, even if the perpetrator is a relative, pastor or community leader.”

Vernal stated that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is committed to making its church a safe place for children and adolescents. “We take seriously our responsibility to minimize the risk of child sexual abuse and violence against children in the congregational setting. As leaders we must see attacks on our children as evil and so we must live ethically and pay attention to making our churches and other institutions safe places for the young.”

Figures from the Office of the children’ Registry shows an upward trend in the amount of cases reported for children (mainly female) who were sexually abused for the period 2007- 2015. Interestingly, the figures moved from 121 in 2007 to 3,806 in 2015, and according to police statistics, sexual abuse of children is now one of the fastest growing crimes in Jamaica.

As a proof of its commitment to child protection, the church hosted a child protection training seminar for dozens of administrators, pastors, teachers and guidance counselors from across its five conferences, churches and schools on the island. This was in order to implement a Child Care & Protection Act, laws related to children and youth as well as the policies outlined by the Adventist Risk Management, explained Vernal.

Audrey Budhi, director of children and family programs at theChild Protection and Family Services Agency presents her message. Photo by Nigel Coke

Director of Children and Family Programs at the Child Protection and Family Services Agency, Audrey Budhi, in her address to the media, commended the effort of the Adventist Church and pledged the agency’s support.

Budhi promised the agency’s unreserved support for the church’s initiative and said that it’s a daunting challenge but said who else would be able to carry out the noble task but the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica. “We want to be able to go back to the days when the church was the main part of raising a child,” said Budhi.

“We need to go back and take back our communities and villages. Our aim is to help build Jamaica fit for children and the church family and community is integral in this regard,” Budhi said.

A seminar titled “The Establishment of a Child Protection Policy” took center stage as the 52 church employees took part in the training event.

Re-known children’s advocate, Betty-Ann Blaine and International Development Consultant Georgia Lewis-Scott featured topics such as Risk Factors of Children, Jamaica’s Child Care & Protection Act, What You Should Know About Child Sexual Abuse, Creating Your Church’s Child Protection Policy (CPP), Best Practices in Design & Implementation of the CPP, and Keys to Sustainable Prevention & Promotion Programs.

Children’s Advocate and Presenter Betty-Ann Blaine (right) during one of her presentations to the participants of the Establishment of the Child Protection Policy seminar in Kingston. Photo by Nigel Coke

Blaine explained that it is necessary not only for Adventists, but out religious groups to implement a CPP because “the church is an easy target for sexual predators because they believe church people are naïve. They know that church members are still saying it can’t happen in our churches and some are resistant to change and don’t believe churches should do background checks or even develop a CPP.”

Vernal further stated that a committee has already been established to put together a child protection policy manual, which should be completed at the end of the year and used in churches, schools and institutions. “A critical element of the policy is the screening of volunteers and workers who are responsible for care of our children.”

Activities to mark the Year of the Child and Adolescent in Jamaica include hosting a convention for children and adolescents, observance of EnditNow day, a children and adolescent week of prayer and a foster care and vulnerable children weekend, among other activities.

“Victims need to know and believe that they don’t deserve to be ill-treated,” Vernal reemphasized. “We say let’s end violence and abuse against our children & adolescents. We must end it now!”

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica has more than 307,000 church members worshiping in 738 churches and congregations. The church oversees 29 primary and secondary schools, a university and a hospital.

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