Showing Mercy: Protecting all children

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By Mercy Lopez

April is a month that brings many joys for many. For me, it marks a very important part of my life — a lesson learned from the past.

Recently, Gov. Susana Martinez proclaimed April as Child Abuse Awareness Month. The announcement brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart to the governor. Her simple action will bring more attention to the prevention of the child abuse epidemic that plagues our state. From toddler Leland a few months ago to baby Briana a few years ago, our state has been ill stricken by the tragedy of child abuse.

In the governor’s press release she states, “There are 561,318 children in New Mexico under the age of 19. In any given year, CYFD receives an average of 33,000 phone calls to their state-wide reporting system. Of those, 18,000 are screened for further investigation, and approximately 4,700 are substantiated for abuse.”

Those are devastating facts. Several thousand New Mexico children have either been scared physically or/and emotionally by abuse or neglect.

Children are the most vulnerable members of society. We as a community need to do everything in our power to protect every child. A child’s smile is genuine, a child’s heart is pure, a child’s mind is innocent and a child is a reminder that we are blessed.

Several years ago, child abuse hit home for me. One October day in 2003, child abuse happened to my own blood — my youngest nephew at that.

The time in the hospital still haunts me. It was heart wrenching to see my three-year-old nephew scream in severe pain and tubes running in every direction. The little man that was surrounded by the spider web of tubes was my own flesh and blood. Looking at him brought me heartache and pain, but it also gave me the determination to do something positive out of something tragic.

As a reporter, I receive press releases from various entities, but the one that I received in early April warmed my heart like no other. I knew April is Child Abuse Prevention Month nationally but I was surrounded with joy when our state’s top elected official realized it as well.

To add fuel to my heart, the governor, along with the Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Yolanda Deines, announced a new child abuse phone number to call.

A few years ago, the state legislature passed the Mario Bill. The bill sponsored by then-state Rep. (and current state auditor) Hector Balderas, was passed throughout the legislature. Mario was proud of the moment.He sat near House Speaker Ben Lujan, while they heard the bill on the House floor and moments later passed it. The results of this bill can be found at www.newmexicokids.org.

Although I am grateful for Gov. Martinez’s action, I encourage her to look into the idea of creating a child abuse registry similar to the sex offender registry that we have nationwide.

If we can prevent even one more child from suffering through abuse, we are doing our mission.

Each and every one of us has the duty to protect and keep our children safe from any harm. Every child must be protected not only for a moment in time, for the month of April, but for a lifetime. Child abuse is not a Democrat or Republican issue, it is a public issue that needs to be addressed.

Mercy Lopez is features editor at the Optic. She may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 239, or mlopez@lasvegasoptic.com.