Forty-five cases of child sexual abuse have been reported since the ‘Tell Scheme’ was launched in November 2012, and there has also been an increase in reported cases of boys being sexually abused.
The campaign was designed for primary school children between the ages of 6 and 11 in an effort to encourage children to disclose abuse as part of a public awareness movement to support the Sexual Offences Act 2010.
Project Officer Kean Chase, of the ChildLink organisation, said the campaign is moving forward and children are speaking out about child sexual abuse and protecting each other by reporting incidents of abuse. She referred to cases where children would be taught about sexual abuse in the classrooms and later approach a teacher with a story about a child they know who is a victim of abuse, noting that as part of the ‘Tell Scheme’ children would be shown posters, flashcards of sexual abuse and where they shouldn’t be touched.
ChildLink has placed a lot of emphasis on educating children about their private parts, since often, children’s silence about abuse stemmed from them being unaware of what their private parts are. She cited a case where a young boy who was being sexually molested by a male cousin remained silent until he was made aware that his butt was a private part. “He didn’t know that he shouldn’t be touched there and therefore he didn’t think of it as sexual abuse,” she added.
She stated that there were cases of both penetration and sexual suggestion. The ‘Tell Scheme’ workers have since caused a commercial to be shown on the Guyana Learning Channel, which teaches children about where they should not be touched.
“Before it was just girls speaking but now school boys are speaking out,” Chase stated, while noting that the mouth should also be considered a private part since some children are forced to perform oral sex under the guise of a secret game.
She stated that child victims are usually told that they are playing a game and it should be kept secret. According to her, it is the chief method used by child molesters to harm children and keep them silent. Most of the children, she said, are sworn to secrecy.
“Children love games and as soon as you say it’s a game they want to play,” she said.
She related a case where a boy told social workers that his father told him to a play a “secret game that only men knew about” and he felt that he couldn’t tell anyone because only men were allowed to play the game.
She said that often, male perpetrators give their penises ‘cute’ names like “birdy, lollipop, you name it they give it just to tell the child cooperate,” she explained. “There is little exposure and children that young usually find out about sex through abuse or friends,” she stated.
Currently, the ‘Tell Scheme’ is in its third phase, having being introduced in schools across regions two, three four and ten. Childlink workers have been working hard to reach schools in remote villages in regions 7 and 8, Chase said. But they are sometimes hindered because some of the villages do not have telephones or radio sets.
She indicated that another organisation would be introducing the campaign in regions 5 and 6. She also stated that another setback the ‘Tell Scheme’ faces is the transfer or resignation of teachers it would have trained. “Sometimes we call and the teacher that we trained has either resigned or transferred,” she said.
But whenever these challenges arise, she said, they would engage the ministry in discussions to overcome them. “We work closely with the Ministry of Education, schools’ welfare officers within the region and some parents,” she added.
She further explained that every class is given a ‘Tell Box’ in which children can deposit letters they write to the teacher if they are being abused.
Teachers are instructed to check the box once every week and if there is a reported case of abuse that teacher would hold a meeting with the child and the school’s head teacher. They would then fill out a referral form and attach the child’s letter to the form. Social services would then be advised and further action taken. “ChildLink does not have the mandate to take a child from their home so it’s the Child Care and Protection Agency’s job to determine what happens after a child tells of the abuse,” Chase stated, while noting that ChildLink is responsible for training, monitoring and evaluating the programme.
Speaking to Stabroek News, Parenting Skills Educational Trainer Dione Plummer said the campaign was also introduced in nine private schools in Georgetown and on the East Coast and East Bank Demerara, including Apex Academy, Green Acres Primary, ABC Academy and Marian Academy.
She said the private schools’ teachers are very eager to use the information and are cooperative and organised. She added that ChildLink was constantly being made aware of ‘Tell Scheme’ materials being misplaced in public schools. “And this is a serious issue,” she added. (Jeanna Pearson)