2000. That’s not a date in history. That’s how many children have been abused every year for the last four years in Jamaica.
1 in 4. The number of girls who will be sexually abused before the age of 18. (Global statistic)
1 in 6. The number of boys.
2 out of 100. The number of Jamaican children who are reported as victims of sexual abuse (according to Professor Samms-Vaughan on April 30, 2012).
No, child abuse is not a recent problem. But with 50th anniversary celebrations looming, people are taking a more critical look at what we have achieved over the last half century of holding our own. How far have we come? And are we doing it right?
In her speech at the launch of Child’s Month 2012, Professor Samms-Vaughan mentions that we are the only country (except for Vietnam) who observes a month for children. This pales in significance to the depressingly morbid statistics she goes on to relate. Children in Jamaica are exposed to violence and abuse of all kinds from an early age, in their homes, in their communities and at school. It’s almost inescapable. What is being done to change that?
It’s reported that teen pregnancy is on the decline, which could be attributed to anything from under-reporting to teens finding cleverer means to avoid getting pregnant. It does not necessarily mean they are any less at risk.
In this article in the Gleaner’s Sunday Outlook, Dr. Little-White begins with,
Sexual molestation in the church is an age-old problem and no one likes to talk about the ongoing sexual abuse of children.
Her article centres around the story of a girl who was sexually molested by a leader of the church, and it serves to highlight 4 main points about the way Jamaicans deal with and perceive sexual abuse.
1. We don’t always know what it is
Persons with the most responsibility for children (parents, school authorities etc.) don’t know enough about the form of child abuse, the profile of abusers or how the abuse can affect the child. There have been cases of mothers saying ‘Well I went through the same thing and I’m all right, so she’s going to be all right too.’
2. Children are not taught how to identify these situations and what to do if they happen.
The majority of sexual molestation cases begin with some variation of ‘I didn’t know what he was doing’. This only makes it easier for the perpetrator to get away with their actions, and makes it less likely for the child to be able to adequately explain to the parent what’s going on.
3. We are too quick to dismiss claims.
This is a running motif in child abuse stories and re-enactments. Too often, the person with primary responsibility for the child ignores and brushes off their claims. At the worst, they don’t believe them and tell them to stop making up stories.
4. We are quick to dispense our own brand of vigilante justice.
We are a hot-tempered people. It’s understandable, given our history of rebellions and activism. But the law cannot be left out in these cases. If a man abuses a child in one community, is found out and subsequently beaten half to death by the members of that community, what is to stop him from moving on to another community to do the same thing all over again?
Education, on both sides. Respect. More faith in our justice system. Better parenting. More attention to detail. You can mix and match these answers, but they are all relevant and they are all necessary.
We have done a lot for our children over the last fifty years, says Professor Samms-Vaughan.
But we need we need to do so much more.