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Social Services urges residents to report child abuse cases after viral video sparks outrage

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Amid national outrage over the video showing a boy being beaten by an adult with a long piece of wood while being forced to hold on to a tree, the Family and Social Welfare Services Division is urging residents to do more than condemn such acts in conversation with each other, but to report them to the authorities.

 But the questions on the minds and lips of many are likely to be, ‘Who to call, or where should one go to report such child abuse?’

Alethea Byers, Director of the Family and Social Services Division, is on a drive to make this information known to all residents, and get everyone to understand how serious an offence child abuse is, and why it must be reported.

“Child abuse is everybody’s business. We cannot say ‘oh it doesn’t concern me, it is not my child, my child does not behave that way’ or ‘I am minding my own business.’ Reporting such acts or any form of abuse means that you can save a child’s life,” she said.

A notable case of child abuse, which ended tragically in Antigua and Barbuda, was the one in which Millicent Cornwall-Roberts beat her teenage granddaughter Jael Thomas with a stick and then let her bleed to death inside the house from an injury inflicted in the process.

The woman, who was convicted of manslaughter at age 71, is now serving 25 years in jail.

Byers said cases of child abuse should not be ignored.

“We have had several, several cases of physical abuse. We have had abuse where parents beat their children with cutlass and it is downright outrageous … I condemn all acts of child abuse. Child abuse is not only physical abuse – it is sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect as well,” she noted.

The social services official is encouraging not only residents who are aware of child abuse cases to come forward, but for parents to seek help.

“I am encouraging parents that if they are having any problem or situation in which they feel they cannot cope with their child or children to seek help before they actually abuse a child or Continued on page 7

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maltreat a child or their children,” she appealed.

She said residents can call the Family and Social Services Division’s hotline at 464-7421, or call her directly at 464-3824. They can also call 462-6368 or the numbers for the main offices: 562-1508, 562-1509, 562-5668 or 562-5669.

Meanwhile, speaking specifically about the case of the child being beaten in the video, Byers said her division has begun working with the family by providing counselling and other social services.

She said while many people would react emotionally and say someone needs to be punished, another very important factor that must be considered is addressing all the issues within the family’s home.

This includes rehabilitation of all parties involved to ensure there is no recurrence with the same child or another child, and to help the affected teen.

She said even the wide circulation of the video would also have its effects on the child and could cause others to try to bully him.

Byers said instead of passing the video around “we need to be responsible in Antigua and Barbuda about our children and for me even that same video that was shown there I ask ‘how is that child feeling? What is happening to that child’s emotional state when he is being publicised all over the world in such form?’”

She added, “While I do not condone abuse and I condemn this act, what is happening in this family? That’s my job. Our job is to look at consequences and also to look at rehabilitation; how can we help him so that he doesn’t get back and do the same thing again.”

Byers said the Division is at this time interviewing multiple people to get to the bottom of the situation, and then it will work on addressing the issues.

The police’s probe, on the other hand, continues. One of the boy’s aunts told OBSERVER media that the child’s mother asked her partner to discipline the minor after he was suspended from school for bullying another child.

According to an aunt, Mauricia Wiltshire, the stepfather used a piece of 2×4 wood to beat the 15-year-old boy.

A 53-second video was posted on social media to show part of the beating which occurred in Freeman’s Village where the family lives.

It was reported to the police and when the child was examined his eyes were bloodshot, his feet swollen, and he was bleeding from the mouth.

Wiltshire said the stepfather was locked up but later released while the probe continues into the incident which sparked outrage in Freeman’s Village where relatives and other residents protested outside the church that the alleged abuser attends.

They are demanding that the man be prosecuted for his alleged actions as they claim it is not the first time the teen has been physically abused.

Wiltshire said the child was scheduled to return to school this week but said he did not wish to do so for fear of being laughed at or bullied.

She said since the incident the boy has been living elsewhere with his father.

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