When Michelle Obama first used the ‘Bring back our girls’ hashtag on April 23, it brought overwhelming attention to the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian students by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. And as with the First Lady’s hip couture and blunt bangs, it began trending. Pretty soon everyone had joined the cause, posting somber—and in some cases inexplicably sultry—photos brandishing the simple plea. Since then it has truly become a global campaign.
Saint Lucians have also been active participants. A recent Facebook post shows local individuals holding up makeshifts signs against the backdrop of the waterfront in Castries. It’s a noble gesture; helping to raise awareness of a disturbing situation while providing some much needed immersion in current international events.
But what about our own girls? When are we going to fervently jump on the bandwagon to rescue our own kids, not necessarily missing, but in their own peril?
Our young women have been suffering for years at the hands abusive parents, nefarious men, and an unreliable system. What is being done for them? Who is standing up and pleading for their safety? Churches are holding marches to protest homosexuality, but say nothing about the atrocious crimes committed daily against our young women.
Last year, there was a march against child abuse coined ‘Break the Silence’, an attempt to put an end to child exploitation. The featured speaker was Dr. Morella Joseph, who has served as an educator, politician, and is currently the Caricom Secretariat Program Manager in the Human Resource Department. The statistics she presented were staggering.
“I want to go back as far as 2000, when the World Health Organization indicated that Caribbean children who were sexually active had their first sexual intercourse before the age of ten. PAHO in 2001 indicated that sexual abuse and exploitation is one of the most common types of abuse in the Caribbean. WHO again in 2002 indicated that the problem of child sexual abuse is escalating in the Caribbean, including Saint Lucia, at a rapid rate. The World Bank in 2003 indicated that the Caribbean has the earliest age of sexual debut in the world. This is serious.”
She went on to give more dire details.
“Another problem that is increasing in practice is the commercialization of sex among minors, young children, as a commodity for material exchange. And that is to say that boys and girls—the research also said especially those in poverty—are increasingly using sex as a source of economic exchange; [meaning] young boys and girls are increasingly getting involved in sexual activity in exchange for money, gifts, toys, even lollipops. And young girls especially are at risk of being solicited for child prostitution.
“Drawing from all these findings and our own personal experience, we all know without a doubt that sexual abuse and exploitation of children is widespread. Not just here in Saint Lucia, and not just in the Caribbean but throughout the world as well.”
Of course boys are at risk to, but it must be noted that girls were mentioned as being the more common target of this maltreatment.
Every time this particular topic is raised, a list of usual suspects is trotted out as reminders of the sexual violence that has befallen our women: Verlinda Joseph, Tricia Dennis, Giselle Georges, Crystal Fanis, and Valerie Lord.
But there are many more, some we will never know about because they will always remain silent.
And why should they speak up?
Evidently, no Saint Lucian is listening.