By Concerned citizen
iPhone 7: $3,199, Carnival costume: $695, KFC two piece meal: $17.05, wet fete ticket: $10, a child’s innocence in SVG: varies by income bracket.
What is the price of innocence? From the number of cases one hears in the news, and the low rate of convictions in the courts, it can be said that in St. Vincent, we have affixed a value to our children: the nation’s future. In a country where sex to get or keep a job is the norm rather than the exception, or where a teen’s pregnancy is overlooked in favour of a monthly hand-out, these realities are far from shocking and far from being over. Not with the levels of poverty and crime at such a high level.
Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Statistical evidence provided by the Family Services Division showed that in 2008 there were 380 reported cases of child abuse. This rose to 420 in 2009 and 1,014 in 2010. The actual number is suspected to be much higher. The UNODC reported that in St. Vincent, sexual violence rose to 168 in 2010 and then to 426 in 2011. It will be interesting to view all of this data separated by ages and months instead of sporadic years. However, that does not exist. Even more recent data is difficult to come by. Every relevant NGO agrees that the collecting and reporting of statistical information on the topic, while previously sparse, is now almost non-existent. In fact, every time the topic of the high number of rape and child abuse is brought up, there is government presentation of statistics that show the contrary. Whether this is intentional to hide the severity of the problem from prying international eyes is for the public to decide. What every Vincentian can say for certain is that we have heard about what is happening and it is worsening.
For a country that has signed onto multiple international conventions for child protections and against domestic violence, it is disconcerting to still hear of so many unsolved, unreported cases of abuse. There is a pervasive lack of faith in the professionalism or abilities of the people put in place to protect the innocent. The Child Protection Unit has only three officers for the entire country. They try their best but many things slip through their overworked hands. Now that carnival season has come around again, I am sure that they, like many teachers and nurses and doctors around the country, are dreading the coming months.
The conditions are being created nationwide which allow for the reweaving of the fabric of society. These new conditions normalise sexual abuse and forced prostitution as a means of diversion and survival. Brazil’s carnival is renowned worldwide for its colour and freedom of expression. Yet, legislation has been written and enforced to prevent the participation of children and adolescents in Carnival. They are protecting their future. When we think of carnival here and children, we see most fetes populated by under-aged youth or big men and women “wining” on a child. For the record, this is sexual abuse and the organisers who allow this through the failure to enact and enforce policies to the contrary are pedalling the abuse. Yet, year after year, we talk about profits and parliamentary sessions are taken up with who was born where, yet we fail to address this issue that is fundamental to our growth and development as a people.
The amount of lawyers in our Parliament yet our criminal code still does not speak specifically to “forced prostitution” or sexual harassment. In addition, despite prostitution being prohibited under Section 285 (d) of the Criminal Code, no convictions have ever been recorded. It is not that it is not happening. It is not that children are being forced to become the breadwinners in their families through the provision of sexual favours. Just recently, it was alleged that a young model made the decision to trade sexual favours with a minister of government in exchange for a better job. She was demonised yet this critical point was left untouched. Yet, her story is the story of many persons around the country.
In 2007, the poverty line for any adult was given at $460 per adult per month (Country Poverty Assessment). In this 2018, government employed cleaners and YES program workers make $400 per month. Does this mean that the government sanctions poverty among some parts of the population? If that is the case, it then makes sense that the current budget is for job retention only and not for job creation. It also will explain the lack of enforcement of current legislation or the passing of new ones aimed at protecting our youth. In my mind, it makes sense to plan a budget that aims to create employment while adopting policies that allow for less importation of goods while increasing goods available for export. It is the short-term view of our futures by our leaders that has us in this predicament. We need to teach our people to fish and not just have them dependant of us for a fish even at the price of their self worth.
Since we tend to hear anytime new legislation is put forward for debate about what our Caribbean neighbours are doing, let us look to Grenada. In 2017, Grenada had 150 cases of sexual abuse in the first half of the year. There was a public outcry and a committee to combat Child Sexual Abuse was set up with a mandate from Cabinet to make recommendations and implementations in order to address the issue. There was also talk of the development of a public sex offender’s registry by the Ministry of Legal Affairs. In St. Vincent, we publicly shame persons who do not pay their bills. Yet it appears that a child’s innocence is worth less than an unpaid Courts bill in the eyes of the authorities.
Let us stop paying lip service to our children’s futures. Legislate protections, enforce and update existing protections, build our economy and a 24-hour refuge for victims. Moreover, don’t just lock up offenders. I say, look to our neighbours and chemically castrate sexual abusers. Yes, they are human and have rights but what is the price of their futures and how does it compared to ours?
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.