Betty-Ann Blaine: Redefining who's vulnerable - Jamaica's children and gay agenda
As the debate rages following the story that children are being shunned by guidance counsellors because of their sexual orientation, those in the society who have fought long and hard to promote and protect the welfare of all of Jamaica's children must be shaking their heads and wondering exactly who is engineering and controlling the prevailing discourse.
Many of us are puzzled as to how, and when, the numerical and sociological paradigm shift occurred as far as the state of the country's children is concerned. In other words, who is responsible for redefining those children who are 'vulnerable' in a society where more than one-half of the child population is considered to be seriously 'at risk'?
The statistics speak for themselves. While 37 per cent of the Jamaican population are children, almost one in every two, or 44.5 per cent, of Jamaicans who live in poverty is a child. Children in the rural areas are the most affected, with more than a quarter of the population, or approximately 26.6 per cent of them, living below the poverty line.
The number of children murdered in Jamaica must certainly rank among the highest in the world, per capita, and particularly considering the fact that the country is not in a declared state of war. In the period 2001-2011, more than 1,500 children were murdered, some of them savagely slaughtered and dismembered. Eleven-year-old Ananda Dean, after whom the Ananda Alert is named, was not just murdered. She was also beheaded.
Within the first three months of last year, 26 children were slain. Over the period, our newspapers carried some of the chilling headlines:
- '14-year-old St Thomas girl butchered, dumped near house' (March 2015)
- '12-year-old girl murdered. Nude body of missing St Catherine girl found in bushes' (April, 2015)
- '3 children among 4 murdered execution style in Clarendon' (April 2015)
In addition to the 1,500 murdered, another 1,600 children were shot and wounded during the same period.
Competing side by side with the litany of child fatalities is the exponential increase in sexual crimes against children. Rape, carnal abuse, incest and buggery have soared alarmingly, making them the fastest-growing crimes in Jamaica today. In 2014, the news reported a 40 per cent jump in child sexual abuse over a one-year period. The highly publicised report prompted the minister of youth to declare the situation "a national crisis". Since then, the state of the children has worsened.
The problem of missing children can also be described as a national crisis. Between January and December last year, 1,933 children were reported missing in Jamaica, and while the majority of those children returned home, 247 of them are still unaccounted for, adding to the number of those of previous years who have never been seen again. Of those reported missing last year, eight were found murdered.
Only a few days ago, this newspaper carried the story of the brutal murder of 10-year-old Juvea Cooper in Portland. The child had been missing for four days and was found dismembered.
Given the abominable state of affairs in which our children find themselves, the issue of which group of them is 'vulnerable' ought to be carefully considered.
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) has apparently discovered a new-found campaign for their own version of vulnerable children, ignoring the tens of thousands of those who suffer from disadvantages and deficits of all types and degrees, foremost among them the staggering levels of child poverty.
In fact, it is material poverty and its ramifications that serve to put our children especially at risk for sexual abuse by both heterosexuals and homosexual predators and paedophiles. The living conditions of many of our country's children can only be described as disgraceful.
If J-FLAG and its funders are at all concerned about the state of Jamaica's children, my recommendation is that they begin to familiarise themselves with the deep and widening socio-economic realities of the lives of the youngest among us.
Unlike J-FLAG, we as advocates don't have the luxury of choosing which children we serve, nor should we allow others to choose in a way that misrepresents, maligns and divides Jamaica's precious community of children.
- Betty Ann Blaine is founder of two of Jamaica's leading children's organisations - Hear The Children's Cry and Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.