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Children's advocate raises red flag over rise in teacher-student sexual relationships

Published:Saturday | February 21, 2015 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
Gordon Harrison

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison has raised concerns about an increasing number of reports relating to alleged sexual abuse of students by some teachers in the parishes of Clarendon and Manchester.

Speaking with The Gleaner in an interview on Thursday, the children's advocate said the past year has shown an increase in the number of complaints being brought to her office which, according to her, is in need of urgent attention.

"There is, for some reason, an upsurge in reports coming from schools out of central Jamaica. They are very much on our radar in terms of areas of concern from our standpoint here at the office," she declared.

"Essentially, Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine had the most complaints when it comes to these issues; however, what we are seeing now, certainly in the last two quarters, is that these parishes (Clarendon and Manchester) are taking over and becoming hotspots when compared to other parishes," Gordon Harrison told The Gleaner.

"These figures are indicative, however, because not every complaint will amount to anything, so we are continuing our investigations to see what the actual figures look like, but certainly from the indicators, there are red flags because it's not just sexual abuse but a lot of physical and emotional abuse," she said.

A similar concern was raised early last year, after data generated within the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) indicated that for the last quarter of 2013, there were 14 cases of sexual interference with children, reportedly at the hands of teaching professionals.

She noted, however, that while there are serious concerns, mechanisms will be implemented to deal with the issue.

"Top of our agenda, certainly, is making interventions in our schools and trying to uncover the root cause for this increase," she said.

"It continues to be a concern because children spend most of their waking hours in learning institutions. If they are in a place where they are entrusted into the care of persons who should be responsible and then that power dynamic is being abused, that is of concern to us," she continued.

Gordon Harrison also stressed that more needs to be done to educate the society about the rights of children.

Doran Dixon, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), said he was not aware of any case of abuse in central Jamaica, but noted that the well-being of children remained a priority for the teaching profession.

"Though she (Children's Advocate Gordon Harrison) is not obligated to, I would appreciate if there was more collaboration, since we are the ones being pointed out, but I will be in contact with the regional officers to conduct investigations," he said.

"We never take issues about our children lightly and we are aware that they are the ones why the JTA exists, and as such, we will not condone in any shape or form with any abuse displayed towards the nation's children," Dixon said.