We are a nation in a celebratory mood, but the recent report about worrying levels of sexual activity among prepubescent children in Jamaica should inject a sober note amid all the revelry.
Superintendent Gladys Brown-Campbell, head of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, painted a picture of shocking sexual behaviour exhibited by children as young as four years old.
Her disclosure of 32 cases reported in one week was enough to raise alarm. The activities described by the policewoman went way beyond what could be considered appropriate childhood curiosity, exploration or sexual play. In addressing a function to launch a child abuse-reporting system, the superintendent appealed for professional help and support, but seemed unsure where to turn. She did, however, single out parents and asked that they pay greater attention to their children.
Thus far, only a few concerned voices have been raised in acknowledgement of the problem. The leaders and majority of citizens appear to be far too busy gearing up to celebrate Jamaica's Independence to react to what can best be described as a clear and present danger.
Yet for all the undoubted progress this country has made, particularly in athletics and other competitive sports and in culture, there remain many areas of national life untouched by the discipline and determination of spirit that produce winners and earn gold medals.
The way we treat children and the elderly stands out as an example of an uncaring country. The deplorable conditions of the Golden Age Home and various infirmaries across the island come to mind, and the many documented abuses in children's homes and places of safety have shocked the nation from time to time - usually for about nine days.
Exposed to sexual activities
Some may blame the problem of inappropriate sexual behaviour on the age in which we live, wherein children are exposed to sexual activities via television and the Internet. And there is some truth in that.
We suggest that after the dust settles on the Independence celebrations and the Olympic Games, all effort be focused on finding the best ways to intervene and treat this problem of sexual deviancy by incorporating the help of front-line professionals who deal with children.
If left untreated, some of these children will persist in this behaviour, with the likelihood of escalation, leaving them at risk to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
Now, more than ever, the country needs to re-examine the merits of a Values and Attitudes Programme. There were previous attempts to get a national movement to embrace positive values and attitudes as a necessary ingredient for development and nation building. A lack of interest in the programme led to its demise. Surely, it must be obvious to most people by now that every step of national life is impacted by values, attitudes and behaviours.
In the meantime, parents and guardians should heed the superintendent's appeal to keep a watchful eye on their children to ensure that they are viewing appropriate programmes. Adult-themed movies and explicit music videos should be off-limits to young children.
A child who watches a sexually explicit video may be confused as to why he or she is not allowed to act out or engage in the activities reflected on screen. The exposure may not be accompanied by opportunities to explain appropriate sexual behaviour to the child, which may lead the child to experiment with another child.
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