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Open your mouths - Public urged to take stand against older men who impregnate teen girls

Published:Thursday | May 1, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Gordon-Harrison … People are seeing the girl with this man every day but choose to shut their mouths, which makes it … harder … to go after these guys.

Alessandro Boyd, Gleaner Writer

The number of babies being born to girls under 15 years old in Jamaica has led to a call for citizens to break their silence and demand greater care for the nation's children.

Although there is a downward trend in the number of pregnancies occurring in girls below the age of 16, the numbers are still alarming. For the three-year period 2010 to 2013, the Registrar General's Department recorded a total of 1,360 live births for teenagers between the ages of 11 and 15.

"This see-and-blind, hear-and-deaf culture that we have in Jamaica needs to stop. We need to start taking a stand and hold people accountable for their actions," Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison told The Gleaner ahead of today's start of Child Month. She added that many of the older men who impregnate underage girls are not criminally charged.

In the last three years in the Corporate Area of Kingston and St Andrew, there were 331 girls under 16 who gave birth, but the police reported only 76 arrests.

The arrest figures remain low because parents, police and child-care agencies often fail to convince the pregnant or sexually abused teens, or persons who witnessed the illegal liaisons, to talk.

According to Gordon-Harrison, the children are sometimes seen with the perpetrators in communities and residents join in the conspiracy of silence.

"Members of the community who know what's going on need to open their mouths and talk," she declared.

"Everybody believes that they must only hold the man accountable. People are seeing the girl with this man every day but choose to shut their mouths, which makes it that much harder for law enforcement to go after these guys."

Gordon-Harrison noted that many of the children born in these situations only have their mother's name on their birth certificates because they (the mothers) are trying to protect the men.

"Even when they give birth to these babies at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital, which is the popular place for them to give birth, they don't actually name the fathers. An outcry is needed from the general public."

Veronica Gilzeane, head of the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), told The Gleaner that the fact that underage girls tend to be in relationships with the offenders contributes to the problem of silence. Love and loyalty to the perpetrators is greater than it is to the parents, she argued.

"Sometimes I wonder, is it that the young persons want sex? I don't believe that. I think what they are actually trying to find is someone to love them. Parents might tell you, 'yes, I love my child', but how much action is there to show? Do you ever say 'I love you'? When these children do in turn find someone that 'loves' them then it is often accompanied by sex," Gilzeane said.

Meanwhile, the CISOCA head noted that the parents of these pregnant teens have been and will continue to be their primary targets for 2014.

"We have been and will continue to go after these parents for not reporting or just turning a blind eye to the problem. If the child is five months pregnant and that is the time you are taking them to CISOCA, then we will be taking action. You are supposed to be exercising vigilance," she said.

Gilzeane added: "We have arrested and charged a couple parents so far as it is our drive for 2014. We are imploring the young persons to come forward and give us the facts of what transpired."

Gordon-Harrison has called for members of the public to be more vocal in the fight against teenage pregnancy.

"Without a witness or evidence there is still no case against them. We are going to continue to have this problem in Jamaica because no matter how many laws are in place, if you don't have the evidence coming forward, which has to come from the people, then it makes no sense," she said.