New customs officers are to be trained in how to combat child sexual abuse.

Andrea McKey, a senior customs officer, said all new recruits would take the programme run by charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets as part of their basic training course.

Ms McKey said: “As of today, 62 employees have taken part in one of the five training sessions we have held recently. Moving forward, this training will be part of our new recruits’ basic training course.”

She added: “With more and more ‘secrets’ being revealed in today’s society we wanted to give our employees the foundation needed to help protect our children from sexual abuse.

“Customs has interactions with children daily whether at the airport or the cruise ships or when we go out to the schools.

“With the knowledge gained from this training, we can take the essential steps needed.

“This training has helped us to see the signs and also changed our mindset on how to deal with children when carrying out our mandate.”

The new officers will be trained in how to prevent, recognise and react to child abuse.

Ms McKey said the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training, run by charity Scars, was organised by the training section of the Customs Department.

She said: “This training started with our new trainee customs officers before being rolled out to the entire department.

“We have employees who have completed this training outside of customs but it is our hope that we can have all our staff trained.

“We will also hold more sessions for those who could not take part in one of the recent sessions.”

Debi Ray-Rivers, Scars’s executive director, said she was pleased that the Customs Department had taken “such a huge step” even though it was not involved in the direct care of children.

She added that the information the staff members learnt would not only assist them at work but also help them in their communities and in their families.

Ms Ray-Rivers said: “This is about an entire community being educated in sexual abuse prevention so that we can reduce the risk and ultimately have a safer, healthier Bermuda.”

By Lisa Simpson The Royal Gazette