Wayne Campbell, Contributor
The recent report from The United Nations Children's Fund regarding sexual violence against children in the Caribbean is cause for much concern and should serve as a catalyst for us to move into action to protect our children.
For far too long, we have been paying lip service to the rights of our children. We all know the saying, 'Our children are our future'; however, we have done very little as a society to adequately protect and address the needs of our children.
Yes, we all are aware of the economic constraints under which we live and operate. Despite this, we should not mortgage our country's future by not allocating sufficient resources to protect our children.
Instead, many of us are guilty, as we have given in to the crippling 'informer fi dead' culture which has allowed many cases of child abuse to go unreported. There are no innocent bystanders in child abuse. We all are complicit by our silence if we do not speak out.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2002, 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 were sexual abused. This number, according to WHO, is just a moderate estimate, since a significant number of child-abuse cases go unreported. Boys, in some instances, suffer twice as much, since in many societies sexual violence against boys is not considered a crime.
Jamaica's culture, to some extent, sanctions the abuse of children because of various myths surrounding sex and sexuality, particularly those regarding virgins and birth control.
There is a tendency for us to view our children as objects. This objectification of our children dehumanises them. There needs to be a massive public-relations campaign, including the use of social media, to sensitise the Jamaican society that children are people, little people with feelings, dreams and in need of care and protection from us as adults. We must encourage our children to have a voice. Children have rights, and those rights must be protected. We need to get our churches on board, as well as non-governmental organisations, with this message.
Teach sex ed
The Ministry of Education should develop and set guidelines for our early-childhood institutions to teach age-appropriate sex education. From as early as possible, our children should be able to tell between a bad touch and a good touch. We are not born with this ability to differentiate between good and bad touch. It must be taught.
Our basic schools, being the first home away from home for the child, should be mandated to instil these. We need to ensure that the teachers at that level are themselves very comfortable with the subject matter. There are many teachers who know and can impart the content, but are not comfortable doing so. Children can pick up on this immediately.
We also need to create a super agency to deal with the rights of the child. I propose merging the Child Development Agency, the Office of Children's Registry, the Office of the Children's Advocate and the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse.
A number of things could be and would be achieved with such a historic move. We would thus be sending a strong message to sex offenders that, as a society, we are serious about eliminating, if not reducing significantly, instances of child abuse. By creating a super child-rights agency, we would ensure that incidents of child abuse are investigated more speedily and thoroughly, and would maximise economies of scale.
This would be a fitting end to Child Month 2012 and a lasting legacy to Jamaica's future, that of our children.
Wayne Campbell is an educator. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.