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EDITORIAL - Shame at Mona Heights Primary

Published:Wednesday | May 23, 2012 | 12:00 AM

There has, in recent weeks, been substantial focus on the problem of child abuse in Jamaica.

The obligatory declarations for Child Month notwithstanding, the attention is right and justified. The anecdotal evidence suggests that Jamaican children may be in crisis. Their parents, too.

Monday's incident at the Mona Heights Primary School in St Andrew highlighted the problem. In public view, their behaviour captured in digital images for wide dissemination, scores of parents engaged in a life-scarring act of social degradation of themselves and their charges.

Further, a little girl, who may have already been victim, was again horribly exposed, to be victim again.

The great shame is that these parents did not grasp the corrosiveness of their conduct. Rather, they assumed, or told themselves, that they were in pursuit of justice.

The trigger of this crass display was the fact that a 12-year-old girl had complained of being sexually molested by a male teacher. The extent of the teacher's alleged inappropriate behaviour has not been publicised, but it was sufficient for him to have been arrested by the special police unit that deals with such crimes.

Whatever the eventual outcome of the case, it would have been expected that the child faced with such a situation would, so long as she attended school, have received the appropriate institutional protection.

For example, she would not have been publicly identified, protecting her from the expected and natural curiosity of her peers and potentially painful gossiping. Nor would she have expected to come in proximity to the authority figure against whom she complained. These things, apparently, did not happen, or not to the extent necessary.

She was exposed, and became the subject of school gossip. Apparently, too, some teachers were offended by the fact that her guardian, rightly, chose to pursue the case.

All this was bad enough. There was worse.

Parents turned up in droves at the school on Monday, padlocked the gates and organised themselves into a demonstration in support of the accused teacher.

Not satisfied for themselves to be agitators, they co-opted hundreds of preteen youngsters to their cause. Anti-authority placards were distributed to these children.

"No teacher, no school," the children chanted.

Callous, inhumane treatment

We do not suppose all the parents with children at Mona Heights Primary supported this action. But the perpetrators cared not for this, nor the fact that they had usurped the rights of other parents who expected that their children be in school, not outside, without supervision and at risk.

These parents claimed that no one had listened to the accused teacher before his arrest, and that his reputation was potentially tarnished. We can only assume that he would have had a chance to provide a statement to the police, who would have been satisfied that a prima facie case had been established.

But the protesting parents were guilty of the same offence of which they accused others - and more. They would have humiliated the alleged victim, suggested to her that to complain is wrong, and reinforced to their children Jamaica's putrid anti-informer culture.

The lesson left by Monday's group: if you have a grouse, padlock the symbol of the problem, shout for justice and expect to substitute noise and muscle for reason. And hurt a child.

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