Greenland To Step Up Fight Against Sexual And Physical Abuse In Kids

by VR Sreeraman on  December 27, 2008 at 12:03 PM Child Health News
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Greenland, struggling for years with a range of social problems, is stepping up the fight to save its children from the trauma of alcoholism, suicide and sexual and physical abuse.
 Greenland To Step Up Fight Against Sexual And Physical Abuse In Kids
Greenland To Step Up Fight Against Sexual And Physical Abuse In Kids

The Arctic island has in the past 50 years developed at lightning speed, transforming itself from a traditional community of fishermen and hunters to a modern society.

But in doing so, some of its inhabitants have been left by the wayside.

Authorities in the Danish overseas territory admit that the social woes are bridling its dreams of independence from Denmark.

Violence is "now regarded as a very serious problem in society," according to a recent report by the local government on public health strategies for the period 2007 to 2012.

Almost half of the population has been subjected to violence at one time or another in their lives, with most abuses occurring against children and teens.

Of the island's 57,000 inhabitants, 39 percent are under the age of 24.

Some 28 percent of girls and nine percent of boys under the age of 14 have been victims of sexual abuse, according to the most recent study on the issue, conducted in 2004.

And despite taboos, 775 police complaints regarding physical abuse were filed in 2005, or almost seven times the proportionate number in Copenhagen, statistics show.

For sexual abuse, the number of police complaints is between 14 and 18 times higher than in Copenhagen.

Aleqa Hammond, a member of parliament for the ruling Siumut Party and the island's former foreign minister, described the situation as "unacceptable."

She said politicians were committed to "combatting in every way possible the violence and sexual abuse against children, who are the future of our country," noting that the abuse hampers society's development.

In order to improve the situation, authorities have asked the Office of Health and Preventive Measures (PAARISA) to implement an action plan.

"Among other things we've set up an anonymous hotline where children, youths or parents can call professional counsellors free of charge to discuss their problems," said PAARISA division head Bodil Karlshoej Poulsen.

More than 1,200 calls were registered in 2007, an increase of 28 percent compared to 2006, with most calls coming from girls aged 14 to 16 who wanted to talk about their suicidal thoughts, physical abuse, drugs and sexual abuse.

Brochures with titles such as "My Body is Mine" and a DVD have been distributed to schoolchildren, urging them to stand up for their right to "say no" and seek help if they are being sexually abused.

"Youngsters are talking more and more about the abuse to which they have been subjected and which exists in all classes of society but especially among the disadvantaged," Poulsen said.

That explains why in studies conducted among schoolchildren, the number who say they have been sexually abused doubled in a decade, from 13 percent in 1993 to 28 percent in 2004.

PAARISA conducted a campaign in 2006 to help bring about "a change in mentality" so that "these subjects will no longer be taboo, so children dare to speak out against the sexual abuse to which they are being subjected."

"Our goal is to eliminate the taboos, to help the victims of sexual violence as best we can, and to make adults understand they have to take of their children," the government said in its strategic plan.

But for psychologist Else Poulsen, "developing strategies in not enough. Politicians really have to make their voices heard."

"It's important for us to take the bull by the horns and say no once and for all to the sexual abuse of our children, because we can't build an independent country with traumatised youths," she said.

At Mjaelkeboetten, a white building located just a few steps from Nuuk's port whose name means "The Dandelion", children can seek a safe haven.

Inside, the laughter and cries of children can be heard as they play in a room with a wall painted with yellow dandelions, a weed known for its perseverance.

"A lot of children are left to their own devices, living in the streets or sleeping in stairwells after having fled physical abuse in their homes where their parents are drunks," said Kirsten Oergaard, a psychologist who runs the crisis centre.

The only place of its kind in Greenland, Maelkeboetten "fills the gaps, as much as it can," for the children.

The centre is open around the clock to kids up to age 17, and offers activities including computers, theatre, music, sewing and bicycle rides.

Children who knock at the door can stay a night, a week or even several months while social services try to find them a foster home.

On average, 25 to 30 children visit the centre every day, most of them between the ages of five and 13. Specially trained workers are on hand to talk and listen to the kids, Oergaard said.

"We want to impart positive values on them, develop their self-esteem, and teach them to use their words rather than fists and to respect themselves and others."

Source: AFP

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