Pimp parents persist! - Many St Thomas children forced into prostitution
Almost one year after the St Thomas police raised the red flag about parents in the parish pushing their children into sexual activities in return for money, the problem is continuing with fresh concerns about the impact this is having on the children.
"What I have seen is a pimping of our children whereby families are unable to take care of themselves economically so the children are given the responsibility of bringing in money to the family," Lorian Peart-Roberts of the Social Development Commission (SDC) in St Thomas told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Thursday.
"The girls especially are foisted on men of better means and they are expected to support the family. It is not a guessing game and it's a widespread problem across the parish of St Thomas," added Peart-Roberts.
Her comments came days after Child Development Agency official Carol Cooper-Rodriquez used a community empowerment session in Somerset to highlight what she described as the alarming problem of child sexual abuse in St Thomas.
"The numbers have gone down since the introduction of legislation enforcing mandatory reporting (of child sexual abuse), but St Thomas is still ranked by the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) as being one of the parishes with the highest numbers of child sexual abuse," Cooper-Rodriquez told The Sunday Gleaner.
According to Cooper-Rodriquez, it is an uphill battle to reduce the sexual abuse of children in St Thomas, mainly because of the attitude many adults have towards persons who engage in sex with children, especially young girls.
"A lot of people will say 'Is just little sex, it not hurting them'. Especially mothers who are using their daughters to lure in men for financial gain. They do not acknowledge the toll this kind of activity has on the body and psyche of a child who has been abused," added Cooper-Rodriquez.
That attitude has also been seen by the SDC, which two years ago created a committee against sexual abuse of children where all other agencies were involved.
"It is not an anecdotal thing and probably our records of reporting is better than other parishes but it is so widely accepted. 'A no nutten. When you lock up the man a what them a go do?' is how people try to rationalise what is done," Peart-Roberts told the Editors' Forum.
"We have gone to several meetings where the youngsters themselves have indicated this issue."
While figures from CISOCA were not available up to press time, Assistant Commissioner of Police Norman Heywood said investigators have been trying to clamp down on sexual abuse of children and urged parents to play their part.
During the recent observation of Safer Sex Week, the youth division of the Ministry of Youth and Culture carried out several activities in the parish to sensitise residents about sexual and reproductive health in an effort to have persons make more informed decisions regarding sexual activities.
Special attention was paid to the rights and responsibilities of parents and children during the session in Somerset, as well as the mandatory reporting of sexual and other forms of child abuse.
Youth empowerment officer for St Thomas, Yanique Williams, said Somerset was chosen because of the high incidence of teenage pregnancy and sexual abuse that occur in that community and the neighbouring community of Trinityville.
"Fifty per cent of the persons who attended the session were teenage mothers who got pregnant in school and have little to no skills to deal with raising a child," said Williams.
Supporting Williams, Cooper-Rodriquez argued that many incidents of child abuse occurred because of irresponsible parents, who have negated their role as guardians and protectors.
"We made that a part of the presentation at the sensitisation session, we gave parenting tips and tried to help parents understand that they have to be active in their child's life and be responsible. It is the only way that we will start to see some change in the parish."
The need for better parenting in the parish was also highlighted at the Editors' Forum last Thursday by St Thomas businessman Franklyn Sephestine.
"We have to look at this social problem, I believe, of parenting if we are going to turn the tide there," argued Sephestine.
More than 50 sexual offences cases were taken before the St Thomas Circuit Court during its last sitting, with children figuring in several of the cases.
- Additional reporting by Jolyn Bryan