Growing up in Jamaica I always heard that it takes a village to raise a child. The village was expected to provide the necessary care, protection and guidance to the child until he or she became an adult. That notion found support in the International Conventions that Jamaica adopted, notably the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was guided by the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly in 1959. The Declaration stated that “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity needs special; safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” Adults were thus given the duty and responsibility to care for children. But what happens when the persons who have been tasked with protecting them become the ones hurting them?
In May, four high school teachers in Clarendon were charged with child molestation and sexual assault. The commanding officer for the Clarendon Police, Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey reported that they received information that one of the girl’s father was aware of, and helped, to facilitate his daughter’s engagement in sexual activities with men on the premises. He even received money from the men which he was using to send his daughter to school.
That girl had no one in her corner as those who were tasked with protecting her were using her for their own benefit with no care for her welfare. The police must be applauded for finding and apprehending the perpetrators. However, any attempt at ‘bigging up’ the police should be done with some restraint as members of the police force have themselves taken on the role of perpetrators.
In April, a district constable in Kingston was caught brazenly having sex with a 14 year old girl at a police station! With this reality who does a child turn to for refuge?
One can argue that the church may be a source of refuge. But even members of the church have come up lacking. In May 2015, it was reported in the Gleaner that a 53 year old pastor in Westmoreland was charged with having sex with a child under the age of 16 and grievous sexual assault.
It takes a village to raise a child. So has the Jamaican village failed? I think we have.
Citizens turn a blind eye to teenage girls and older men having relationships robbing them of their innocence. Who is protecting our children when those who have a duty of care to do so themselves become active perpetrators?
Statistics show that most children who have been abused were hurt by someone who they know.
In the light of what is happening we need to provide comprehensive sexuality education for our children. Children need to know it is okay to speak up if they are touched in a manner that is uncomfortable. We also need to do away with the notion that “it is not my business what happens behind closed doors” or that “the problem should be kept within the family.” When we do that we are giving perpetrators a haven in which to operate. Victims of child abuse often say that tried to speak out but no one believed them; or that they didn’t say anything because they thought no one would.
We need to recreate the villages that use to take care of our children. The laws alone cannot do it. What good is the law when we don’t speak or act when we know that people are hurting our children?
Instead of saying “a just bad she bad”, report sexual grooming. Instead of saying it was the girl who forced herself onto a man. Report the man because he and not her is the adult, thus, he should know better.
Our role is to educate children to make informed decisions later in life. But as we all know children live what they learn. By keeping quiet and not acting, we are teaching our children that it is normal for a 14 year old to have ‘sex’ with a 35 year old. When in truth that is a sexual offence. We are also teaching them that their voice is not valid when they tell us that they have been abused, and we refuse to acknowledge or believe it.
As Jamaicans, it is our responsibility to look out for our children. With the traditional protectors namely teachers, pastors, police and parents taking on the roles as perpetrators; we should be more vigilant and proactive about the safety and innocence of our girls and boys. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt, families should be nurturing and the first barrier of protection.
We as neighbours, friend of the family and even complete strangers should take a stance. Our village is failing and if something is not done immediately it will be gone forever.