OCA rep: Child sexualisation begins in the community
LATOYA MINNETT-Hall, public education and special projects manager in the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA), is lamenting how children are being sexualised to the point that they are no longer allowed to enjoy their formative years because of the risk of abuse, even in their communities.
Addressing the Montego Bay leg of the Press Association of Jamaica’s (PAJ) public forum dubbed ‘Children, Sex and the Media – Regulation and Responsibility in the Digital Age’, held at the Montego Bay Community College in St James on Thursday, Minnett-Hall said that the old adage of the village raising a child is no longer in effect.
“One of the great challenges that we have as a society now is that the sexualisation (of children) does not only begin when they step on a public transportation bus or a taxi, but it begins in these very communities. What we are seeing is that parents are unwilling to let their children out to play, because in times gone by the community used to be responsible for holding the family together even when you as the parent were not there, but now you have to be worrying about the risk of abuse,” Minnett-Hall told the forum.
“Children are not safe in their space at school, and the community is not the same anymore, so while you would have loved to have them out there playing like we used to, you cannot do that anymore because there is a little man on the corner watching your child at age 10 or 11, just ‘bursting breast’ as we would say in the country, or just putting out a little bottom or hip, and they become sexually attractive to these people who are allowed to continue their behaviour because no one says it is incorrect. We have a psychosocial and cultural deficit in terms of how we treat children,” Minnett-Hall added.
Her grim assessment came one day after the brutal rape and murder of nine-year-old Esher Primary School student Nikita Noel, whose body was found a short distance from her home in Kew district, Lucea, Hanover, on Wednesday evening after she failed to return home from school. A 42-year-old suspect, who is alleged to have been in a relationship with the child’s mother, was subsequently taken into custody.
The schoolgirl’s death drew strong condemnation from Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Education Minister Fayval Williams, along with assurances that the government would urgently amend the Offences Against the Person Act to severely punish offenders.
The government is seeking to amend the Act to increase the mandatory minimum sentence for murder from 15 to 45 years.
Minnett-Hall noted that while the issue of children using computer devices and the World Wide Web in unsafe ways is a concern to be addressed, there must be a balanced approach to rectify that matter because children who are abused might see their devices as their only avenue for seeking help.
“We know there are very vast, unregulated spaces, especially where social media is concerned, and one of the concerns we have is that children have wanton and unfettered access to some of these things. It causes us now to be having that discussion, broadening the discussion with parents and not just children about how we can keep them safe, keep them in line, and help them to navigate the social space in a safe and smart way,” said Minnett-Hall.