Those of us who are startled over the revelation in a recent UNICEF study that child sex abuse may have become a virtual sub-sector of the wider tourism industry in some Caribbean territories are victims of a belated recognition of a practice which may well have been in vogue” for several years. Indeed, the question arises as to whether serious investigation into this heinous ‘business pursuit’ is not being stifled by what the same report says is a proclivity by some Caribbean politicians and senior professionals for deviant sexual behaviour involving the abuse of minors, a practice which, the report says has become “a firmly entrenched and established pattern of behavior that did not need to be hidden since it was unlikely to attract penalty.”
Now that the UNICEF study has openly said what has been widely known for some time but which appears to have been simply swept under the carpet by officials in the offending territories, the question arises as to how we respond to this deeply worrying revelation.
Historically, Caribbean people have sought to set themselves apart from such abhorrent sexual practices as child sex abuse, which were generally held to belong to the more ‘liberal’ metropolitan behavioural cultures. As Caribbean people, we were weaned on adult/child relationships – particularly at the community level – that assigned to every adult the responsibility to keep every child safe and in cases where adults dared to deviate from that norm the social consequences tended to be as harsh as the legal ones.
Revelations like those contained in the UNICEF study help to contribute to a painful unravelling of the notion that child abuse is not a Caribbean problem. Indeed, what the UNICEF study tells us is that the Caribbean is no different to anywhere else; the problem of child abuse in parts of the region’s tourist industry is an organized business phenomenon driven, on the one hand, by men and women who have no moral difficulty with exploiting weak and invariably poverty-stricken children for profit and, on the other, by twisted ‘tourists’ whose visits to the region are designed to, among other things, sate their depraved desires.
The UNICEF study is a grim warning for countries like Guyana, which, while correctly seeking to expand market share in the tourism are compelled to be mindful of the fact that a greater influx of visitors could bring with it certain kinds of dangers which, while putting money into the pockets of people who think nothing about emulating here the child sex abuse practices in other Caribbean territories, will only serve to further deform our own society which is already struggling with its own extant and probably worsening child sex abuse practices.
The solution, of course, does not lie in using the UNICEF study as justification for suppressing visitor arrivals. Now that we have been duly alerted to the problem of child sex abuse in the tourist industry elsewhere in the region the various stakeholder agencies – the Ministries of Home Affairs, Human Services and Tourism; the Guyana Tourism Authority; the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana and the various hoteliers, tour operators and resort owners, among others – must move immediately, through legislative and other means that include strict monitoring of practices in the industry, to ensure, simultaneously, the growth and development of the sector, on the one hand, and, on the other, the protection of our children – particularly the vast numbers of poor and vulnerable ones – from the very real possibility that more than a few twisted souls may find their way here.