On Tuesday morning students from schools across the island marched in solidarity against child sexual abuse as part of the ‘Break the Silence’ campaign launch. The program, supported by the Ministry of Health, is aimed at ending the cycle of child exploitation, which has permeated the Caribbean region.
Among those in attendance were ministry officials, students, teachers, parents, and well-wishers, as well as Ministers Robert Lewis, Phillip J Pierre and Alvina Reynolds, who made brief cameos due to their impending Parliamentary duties. To emphasize the message of speaking out, presentations were made by representatives of various schools, including a catchy calypso courtesy of the Gros-Islet Primary School. The crowd could not help join in on his refrain of ‘wap, wap, wap, wap’ mimicking the sound of a child being beaten by a parent, as the young singer advocated against corporal punishment.
Special recognition was given to Taj Weekes, a St Lucian born and bred Grammy nominated international reggae artiste, singer-songwriter, poet, freedom fighter and humanitarian. He was named UNICEF’s Champion for Children for Saint Lucia.
The featured speaker was Dr. Morella Joseph, who is a noted educator, politician, and is currently the Caricom Secretariat Program Manager in the Human Resource Department. Joseph started out by sharing statistics which reinforced the dire situation facing the regions youth.
“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.”
“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, and the research also said especially those in poverty, are increasingly using sex as a source of economic exchange. That is 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 St Lucia, and not just in the Caribbean but throughout the world as well.”
Dr Joseph further went on to remind the crowd of some of the victims who have become the face of sexual violation and tragedy on the island; Verlinda Joseph, Tricia Dennis, Giselle Georges, Crystal Fanis, and Valerie Lord.
She issued a direct challenge to parents, encouraging them to be mindful of the effects of their actions on their children.
“Many of us directly or indirectly are responsible for this situation and I want to begin with the parents. What kind of role models are you for your children? Especially the mothers. Where are you when your children are being abused? What examples do you set for your children to emulate? What values do you instill in them? These children model behaviour and at that age they have very impressionable minds.”
Joseph went on to add, “Men could do more to stop other men from having sex with children. Women could take more action to protect children from men taking sexual advantage of them. Children should be helped to speak out if an adult has taken sexual advantage of them. And I hope that as a priority the policy makers will honour their obligation to protect the nation’s children. What we need is definite action to prevent, condemn, and punish abusers in order to help children protect and express themselves. And to give victims a chance to overcome their trauma. This is absolutely necessary, feasible, and urgent.”
In closing Dr Joseph urged everyone to be more attentive because things are not always as they seem and to that end recalled one of her favourite quotes from ‘Stop the Pain’ Caribbean campaign.
“Sometimes the prettiest smile hides the deepest secrets. The prettiest eyes have cried the most tears. And the kindest hearts have felt the most pain.”