Mechanisms must be put in place to foster the involvement of civil society in preventing child abuse

Dear Editor,

The Caribbean Voice supports CPIC Monique’s call for civil society to get involved in the campaign against child abuse. We also agree that tackling child abuse in all its forms – physical, sexual, emotional and psychological ‒ needs “outreach, family-based prevention and home visiting, and school-based models to meet families where they are and to help them build their new lives and hopeful futures”. Indeed, mechanisms must be put in place to foster the involvement of civil society.

One such mechanism is our Youth & Student Workshop, which has been endorsed by the Ministry of Education and has already been taken to a number of private schools, although we are awaiting permission to take it to public schools across Guyana. This workshop focuses on arming young people with alertness and awareness with respect to abuse and violence (domestic, gender based, sexual, physical, substance related, online and Internet) and equip them with knowledge, self-esteem, self-confidence and coping skills to face challenges and stress.

Within this context too we expect to soon launch a National Youth and Students Essay Contest, also endorsed by the Ministry of Education that would become annual. This year’s focus is on suicide, with the aim of getting young people to engage in primary research and information eliciting within their communities and in developing models for redress thereby becoming change agents on the social landscape.

Meanwhile, the media – traditional and social – recently publicized a case of corporal punishment that left a student bleeding and in pain.  There have been many similar cases over the years and this begs the following questions: Are doctors required to report such cases of child abuse to the authorities for investigation, or is it simply a question of parents seeking redress without assistance? Why is the cane still used in Guyana, when the country that exports it has banned its use in the classroom? Did this teacher teach his students homework/study skills, or he just expects his students to know how to do homework and study? Did this teacher have or consider having a conference with the parents? Did this teacher have or consider having a discussion with other teachers of this child to find out whether any perceived behaviour is across the board or only unique to his/her instructional time/subject? Can the administration in a private school immediately relieve a pedagogue of his/her duties or agree to a psychiatric evaluation/mental status evaluation when these kinds of mental aberrations occur? The bottom line is that there should be a clearly defined process of disciplinary action by the Ministry of Education to address corporal punishment that must also include possible psychological help for any teacher who displays the tendencies inherent in the actions of this particular teacher.

TCV needs to point out that a training workshop on ‘Classroom Management without Corporal Punishment’ was offered free of charge to the Ministry of Education in the previous government and also to the current government. The previous government pulled the plug at the last moment after TCV and the VSO (which has since pulled out of Guyana) had put measures in place for the workshop. The current government has not acknowledged our offer to date.

As well, it is in this context of the need to protect children and the vulnerable that we launched our petition for a registry of sex offenders in 2015, and thus support the recent announcement by Ann Green, head of the Child Care and Protection Agency for the establishment of such a registry in 2018.  Consequently we must respond to criticism of such a registry by a recent letter writer in the local media.

To begin with, there is the straw man argument that the registry is not a solution to sexual abuse, a claim never made. The fact is that there is no single mechanism that can eliminate sexual (or any other) abuse, but the registry can be one item in a basket of measures that would include other items such as education (National Youth and Students Essay Contest), sensitization and training (Youth & Student Workshop), active oversight and monitoring, increased parental empowerment and harnessing (such as through Parent Teachers’Associations and religious institutions), providing teeth to all impacting laws and unrelentingly applying them, police training so they can handle cases with sensitivity and empathy as well as display an understanding of the factors that militate and so on.

Also the citing of selective data and stats to argue that a registry is ineffective is a disingenuous ‘seeing a tree and shouting that the forest has been found’ technique that ignores registries globally. The fact is that the registry enables citizens to know which of their neighbours are registered offenders. This knowledge not only helps to develop a greater level of awareness and alertness leading to proactive preventive steps as well as a reservoir of community activists and advocates, but also ensures that perpetrators are reminded that they should not again indulge in such actions and if necessary seek help to prevent themselves from doing so.

It must be noted too that the vast majority of the sexual assaults are perpetrated by family, friends and acquaintances, and thus it is better to be as proactive about sex offences as possible and take advantage of the tools available in the community so that no one is enabled to perpetrate such acts. Besides, keeping close tabs on registered sex offenders doesn’t necessarily make us safe but it makes us safer. This element of safety is reinforced by police officers or trained community aides deployed to knock on the doors of registered sex offenders, making sure they are abiding by the conditions of their release and living where they are registered. This ensures that offenders know that a police officer is going to come knocking but they just don’t know when. The knowledge that someone is keeping track of them, and making sure they are not around children or are living where they are registered, helps keep offenders from reoffending. Secondly, if the sex offender is not at the residence, police can be alerted and the offender can be arrested. Thirdly, sex offenders without a permanent residence should be mandated to report in person weekly/monthly at the closest police station, with a list of their whereabouts in the intervening period. The police can then verify the list.

Finally a network of non-governmental, community based and faith-based organizations can be a critical element in the fight against abuse. And Voices Against Violence, the loose umbrella of some sixty plus such entities, that organizes the annual Anti-Violence Candlelight Vigil, already provides such a vehicle for networking and collaborating. To be a part of the Voices Against Violence network, please contact The Caribbean Voice via email to caribvoice@aol.com or via our Facebook group page at facebook.com/ caribvoice. Check out our website at www.caribvoice.org. In Guyana call Chandanie at 697-9968 or Ibima at 694-7433/610-8451.

You can also contact other members of Voices Against Violence, including CPIC Monique’s, Samantha Sheoprashad, and the Enterprise Youth Development Group, Pandit Deodat Persaud and the Golden Om Dharmic Youth, Pastor John Joseph of the Seventh Days Adventist Church, Raheema Rahaman of the Sadr Islamic Anjuman, SASOD, Theresa Arifa and Crossroads Suicide and Mental Health Awareness Services, Zorg Women’s Group, the Amerindian People’s Association and the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association.

 

Yours faithfully,

Annan Boodram

The Caribbean Voice

 

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