In Barbados between April 1, 2010, and February 28 this year there were 737 cases of child abuse involving 1 061 children. Of that number 199 children suffered physical abuse, 151 sexual abuse, 612 neglect, 97 emotional abuse and two were abandoned. Of course these figures do not reflect the countless other cases of child abuse that go unreported and the other institutionalized and normalized practices of child abuse that are not even considered such.
May is child month. I learn today that the activities for Child Month include: the launch of a campaign against child abuse, a men’s forum to discuss DNA Testing And Implications For Men And Children, in addition to a forum for the youth on the topic Teenage Pregnancy: Life Before, Life After.
Just who is setting the children’s rights agenda in Barbados? With 1000+ children reported to have been abused and the countless other cases which go unreported, how is a “a men’s forum to discuss DNA Testing And Implications For Men And Children” a legitimate child month activity? Just how do men’s rights and responsibilities with regards to paternity and paternity testing fall within the remit of an organisation set up to respond to the needs of children? Where are the children’s voices?
I’m not dismissing the relevance or usefulness of paternity testing. Neither am I dismissing the premise of a men’s forum to discuss it. Yes, men and women, mothers and fathers have a key in ensuring that children’s rights are not denied. But their interests and agendas cannot be assumed to be the same. I just think that child month should be about the issues which deny our children their right to a good life and also about the issues which our children define as important to them.
The UNICEF report on “Perceptions of, Attitudes to, and Opinions on Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean” revealed that:
a significant number of people consider that childhood ends at 13 years. This may help to explain why, in the focus group discussions, some men indicated that they considered girls to be legitimate sexual targets once girls have gone through puberty (this phrase was taken to mean that a girl had begun menstruating);
The bible says that when a woman goes through puberty she is ready, so if it happens at 11 she is ready (Male Focus Group Participant).
It also revealed that the majority of respondents agreed that ‘girls draw men’s sexual attention by the way they dress’. While respondents may have been stating that they believe this to be a fact or that they in fact believed that girls actively seek men’s attention through their choice of dress, it is a belief that ultimately relieves men of their responsibility for their own behaviour and contributes to victim-blaming in cases of rape and sexual abuse.
Another key finding is that the majority of respondents said that if an adult in their family was sexually abusing a child within the family, they would always report it to the police. However, when asked a related question, a significant number of people said they would try to sort out such a problem without informing the police. Men were twice as likely as women respondents to state that they would sort it out without going to the police (34% of male respondents said this as compared to 17% of female respondents).
Clearly we have a long way to go towards recognising the right of all children to a good life. This includes moving away from viewing children as the property of their parents, a view that is very much prevalent in the Caribbean. We also need to recognise that children’s rights must be addressed on their own terms. We cannot allow the children’s rights agenda to be hijacked by groups whose aims are often inimical to the rights of children.
We need children’s voices on the Children’s Rights agenda.
What do you think?