Kingston, Jamaica

Friday, April 26, 2013

Child Abuse and School Officials: A Growing Problem in Jamaica

A class room where learning should take place.
Child abuse is a very sensitive, intractable and pervasive issue in Jamaica. For too long, incidents of child abuse are perpetrated by the very same persons or person whom the society expects to be the protector of children. One would assume, that the least likely place for a child to be abused is in a school. How often does one hear of children being abused (sexually or physically) by school officials? How likely is it that abused students will report such incidents? It is almost unheard of and in most instances treated with great levity by school administrators and government officials.

In Jamaica, the problem of child abuse in schools is tabooed. Students abused by school officials are scared of reporting abusive encounters with his or her teacher, principal, guidance counselor, dean of discipline, among others. In order to avoid external intervention or probe by law enforcement officers into cases of abuse, the school's administration tends to operate contrary to the legal justice system, when dealing with students' complaints against staff members. As a result, the reporting of several egregious acts against students are delayed, muffled and swept under the carpet.

Statistics on the total number of reports received by the Office of the Children’s Registry, OCR (2012) showed a total of 178 reports/allegations received by the OCR against school officials during the period 2007 to 2011. Based on the report, teachers and principals are the main culprits of child abuse in schools as shown in the tables below.

Recently a Jamaica-Gleaner News report dated January 21, 2013 “a 35 years old male teacher from a prominent primary school in Kingston was charged for sexually abusing an 11-years-old student multiple times between October 2008 and February 2010,” the . It is clear that this endemic and malicious crime of pedophilia is systematic. It erodes the commitment by the Child Care and Protection Act (2004) to protect our children and the fabric of Jamaica’s culture.

In an interview, with former Children’s Advocate Mary Clark (quoted in Reid, 2011) noted that, “accused offenders (teachers) are sometimes removed from one school, but are rehired at another institution in the system because there is no database available to schools across the island to aid in doing antecedent checks.” And in addition to this Dwayne Cargill research officer in the Office of the Children’s Registry (quoted in Reid, 2011) stated that “as a result of the gaps in the system, the cycle of abuse continues."

While the Office of the Children’s Advocate tacitly express concerns about the alarming number of child abuse cases in our schools, the perpetuation of these cases in our  schools bring into sharp focus the organization's failure to uphold its mandate “to enforce and protect the rights and best interests of Jamaica’s children.”

The lack of collective responsibility and accountability for the rise in child abuse across Jamaica, confirmed the existence of a broken education system and lack of government leadership. How can parents trust their government, when their leaders refused to make human rights abuse of children a national priority, when a total of 25,023 reports of child abuse were made to the OCR during the period 2007 to 2011? This is unacceptable.

Moreover, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report (2012) on Jamaica, 
“over the two year period of 20082009, 2,639 crimes were committed against children, and in 2009, 563 boys and girls aged 14 and younger were victims of major crimes. Of those 563 child victims in 2009, 81 were murdered, 189 were raped, and 291 were sexually assaulted. While some cases of violence against children have been solved and closed during the last five years, many remain unsolved, pointing to a failure of the State to apprehend child predators and murderers. For example, of the 71childmurder cases recorded in 2007, 41 remain unsolved.”

The report further posits that “the State informed that between January 1 and September 25, 2011, the system recorded reports of 1,539 missing children; and that 451 of those children remained unaccounted for.” These violent acts against our children should not go unpunished.

Evidently the concerns with respect to the rights of children and child abuse in Jamaica from international human rights bodies prove that the issue is dyer. Now it is time for the government of Jamaica to employ adequate resources and expertise to curtail this problem.

It is time for the Jamaica Teacher’s Association (JTA) to take a definitive stance against abuse in our schools. JTA’s condemnation of sexual and reproductive tools, such as condoms in schools, as well as their blatant silence on teachers who are accused sex offenders, is a true reflection of the organization's failed leadership and polices which fosters the insidious culture of child abuse in schools across Jamaica.

Therefore, the Jamaican people need to hold their educators and government officials accountable for failing to protect our children. Hence, the need for a sex offender registry is critical in tracking, monitoring and preventing those  intent on harming and abusing our children. Parents, it is also your responsibility to protect your children from harm by ensuring that no crime against them goes unpunished. School officials found guilty of child molestation or child abuse, should have their teaching licence revoke permanently.

For this reason, I strongly urge the government of Jamaica and school officials to be more vigilant and proactive in stemming child abuse and bring those found culpable to justice.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Censoring Sexuality In School Texts: Freedom of Expression

In the United States of America and Jamaica, the use of educational policies to censor and suppress student's right to access information on human sexuality in school texts has been widely practiced. Sexuality is one of the most ancient and controversial topics or word in most countries across the world, particularly those countries or societies that are considered to have a conservative perspective on the use of the word and its content. Human sexuality extends across a broad, yet diverse spectrum of human behavior.  Homosexuality, Bisexuality and Heterosexuality are the intermediaries and extremes that are  aligned to the sexual hierarchy or spectrum. Societal ideologies help to dictate and form what is deemed as appropriate and acceptable or inappropriate and unacceptable when it comes to certain sexual choices. 

 Donelson (1987) cited in Jongsma (1991) suggested that "censorship frequently increases when the social fabric of a society is in despair." Hence, it is society or the leaders of our society's  role to shape and protect the moral,social and cultural fabric of their country. They achieve this by controlling the kinds of materials or information being circulated and fed to children, especially within the education system. "Schools as well as parents, churches and synagogues, and other groups shape children’s perceptions of the world by process of socialization. That is, the values, beliefs, and norms of society are internalized within children so that they come to think and act like other members of society,” (Sadovnik, 2001, p.122).

Thus, the censoring of sexual content or sexuality within schools texts is critical in maintaining moral and social order in society and controlling human socialization.  Censorship is one of the most practical and effective means by which any country or society silence, control and impede the flow or dissemination of a particular message or information to its members.  Similarly, Booth (1992) defined censorship as “the removal, suppression, or restricted circulation of literary, artistic, or educational images, and/or information on the grounds that they are morally or otherwise objectionable,” (p.9).  Content within school books are constantly reviewed and screened for inappropriate sexual language or illustrations. Who are censors? Most censors are parents who are concerned about the type of information their children are exposed to. Also Principals, teachers, administrators and censoring advocates are actively involved in censoring books.

School texts are there to share information/knowledge or inform people on a topic, work, and expression etc. Educational texts books in schools are intended to target students based on their age, and grade. The irony though, is that base on the appropriateness of the content, books are streamed in line with students' age and grade, in order to avoid the issue of censorship in schools. On the other hand, “Censorship is an abrogation of the right to know,” (Giddens, 1997, p.281).  As a result it infringes on the freedom of expression or intellectual freedom of individuals and the right of students to receive information.  Article 19 within The Universal declaration of Human Rights (1948) explicitly outlined  that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” (p.4). However, with ever right there are certain limitations. Although this may seem constitutional, nevertheless in some countries ones freedom of expression is seen as a privilege and not as a right.
 “Students have the right to be protected from things that are likely to affect them adversely. Parents have the right to expect schools to protect their children during their unquestionably impressionable years from such influences,” (Donelson, 1982 cited in Hansen 1987, p.123). Clearly, the right of the children and their parents would be considered over the Author’s right to freedom of expression when his/her book is being censored in school libraries. 

            Burress an American Writer asserts that “education is divisive. It only teaches the values of community but also holds them up to judgment. He further implies that there are many who feels that education is the indoctrination of students in the conventional beliefs of the local community,” (Burress, 1982 cited in Hansen, 1987, p.125). Thus, the vast inequity in terms of students’ right to access of information in the educational system.  In the United States, the act of censorship is well renowned. There has been a periodical battle between parents- school administration and between the school administrations – Authors over objectionable, inappropriate, and offensive content within school texts. Interestingly, the censoring of school texts in its true sense tends to involves the conflict theories of education. In that, “from a conflict point view, schools are similar to social battlefields, where students  struggle against teachers, teachers against administrators and so on,” (Sadovnik, 2001, p. 124).

For instance, Jongsma (1991) noted that “organizations such as the Educational Analysts. The Liberty Federation, the Eagle Forum. Parents for Decency in School, Citizens United for Responsible for Education, Save Our Schools, and Parents of America Responding to Educational Needs of Today’s Society are raising complaints about  texts used in schools all across the United States,” (p. 152). Obviously, parents are the main censors, who are at the forefront advocating or speaking out against books with offensive or objectionable language or image. Therefore, due to intense lobbying over the past decades, several books have been banned from school libraries or those recommended as school texts.

Additionally, “censorship emblematizes the classic liberal dilemma: the responsibility of a democracy to allow free expression to the most repugnant of ideas, even those that deny the very principles of freedom on which that hospitality is based,’’ (Geller, 1984, cited in Kidd, 2009, p. 200). In fact, in the United States sexuality is one of the most popular censored topics in reference to school texts. “As usual, complaints concerning sexual behavior  generally arise because the objectors feel that authors are not just merely describing but advocating the behavior,” (Booth, 1992, p. 41). Indeed, the practice of complaints helps to censor the expression of sexuality in school texts.  

Controversial themes, such as, Homosexuality and pornography, as well as how they are  depicted and illustrated in books often spark  outrage by parents and some teachers. The issue of morality is of conflict when it comes to homosexuality. The lifestyle is not accepted and refuted in school texts. Most parents do not want their children to be exposed to such "inappropriate lifestyle," but to each, his own. For example, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was banned from some school libraries because of the sexual content and offensive language used; Also parents objected to the book being a part of the curriculum for high school students. Even The Man without a Face by Isabelle Hallond was banned because it deals with homosexuality.

On the contrary, Booth (1992) argued that “parents have the right to challenge what we are doing in schools, to complain, to air their views; but what will we do when their actions encroach up the rights of other children to know and to read?” (p. 12). It is indeed an excellent question. Clearly, the rights to receive information by other students are infringed upon, due to the banning of a particular book deem offensive or inappropriate by a few parents, and in most cases just a single parent.   The first Amendment according to Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary (2011) is The amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of expression (including speech, press, assembly, association, and belief), and freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Hence, all American Citizens are entitled to utilize the first Amendment as their right.

Furthermore, Cornell University's Legal Information Institute (2010) stated that “despite, popular misunderstanding the right to freedom of the press guaranteed by the first amendment is not very different from the right to freedom of speech. It allows an individual to express themselves through publication and dissemination.  The Supreme Court has also recognized that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence.” Now it is quite evident that there are limitations to ones right to freedom of speech in the United States. This would apply to grievous or offensive sexual content or sexuality in books that may evoke anger within parents and disturb the peace within the schools. Eventually this may lead to the book being banned from the school curricula. Besides, to deny students literature or even plain information about sex goes against basic educational principles (Booth, 1992, p. 41)

Also, censorship of certain school texts infringes on teachers academic freedom to teach.  For instance, Algeo and Zirkel (1987) cited in Jongsma (1991) suggested that “ in past court cases in the United States, teacher brought suits against their school districts for depriving them of their right to academic freedom in their teaching. Teachers are then faced with the act of balancing their own academic freedom, the students’ and parents’ First Amendment rights, and the prerogative of the school board to make decisions concerning curriculum,” (p. 152). Therefore, in attempt to control censorship and its inequities in regards to individual freedom of rights, some schools have developed policies and procedures in case materials are challenged.

Interestingly, the culture of censorship in Jamaica, or in any other Caribbean county a matter a fact is not as prevalent, complex and controversial as in the United States of America. Perhaps, in Jamaica the political and educational system is not as liberal and accommodating of citizens constitutional rights as seen in the first world countries. After colonialism, Jamaica’s educational system was adopted from the British. Most of the country educational materials, such as, texts books and stationary are imported predominantly from the United Kingdom and the United States. Even their educational policies and procedures were informed from these countries.

Censorship in Jamaica is primarily practice at the government level.  The Ministry Of Education under the government of Jamaica routinely assess and regulates all books that go into private and public schools. As a democratic society, the opinions of citizens should be heard and parents should be included within this process. Hence, the authoritative manner in which the Ministry of Education stream school text before they enter the school system is deem as a form of despotism. In a recent interview, Mr. Thompson a Senior Executive Officer from the Evaluation and Utilization Department at the Ministry of Education which deals with School Texts stated that:

“Schools are free to list books, but the Ministry has its own official book list. The Ministry does not have much control over the types of books a school may recommend. However, the Ministry has the responsibility to ensure that information in school texts are assessed before they get into the schools. The Ministry has a textbooks reviewed instrument, a section which deals with profanity, immorality, and the rights of the child and anything that is offensive. The Ministry does not have a policy for texts books, but one is being developed. If parents finds a book offensive, we then pull the book from the curricula.”
(Retrieved from interview on July 8, 2011)

Clearly, without an official educational policy on censorship in school texts, customary censorship is widely practice in the education ministry. In other words, school texts are self-censored before they enter the school system. Moreover, when faced with challenges about texts, Jongsma (1991) suggested that one should anticipate concerns about texts by knowing your community and its standards. As you select materials for your classrooms and schools, whether for teacher-guided instruction, for independent reading, or for assessment, anticipate how students, parents and adults in your community will re-act to the language and the subject,” (p.  153). Hence, the government of Jamaica knowingly understands its people and their culture, prevents the inflow of possibly offensive materials.

Again, homosexual lifestyle is one is in which there are great opposition to, and in Jamaica there are no exceptions to such sexuality. “In Jamaica, the issue of homosexuality is one of the most sensitive moral issues being debated today. Homosexual people are sometimes feared, hated, and discriminated against,” (House, James, Keene, Mckoy & Peart, 2009, p. 52). Gays and lesbians who are legal citizens seem to have no right place in Jamaica.  The slight mention or detailed information in support of homosexuality in school texts are rejected by parents and other concerned members of the society. Regrettably, members of the governments and others in leadership positions in the Jamaican society take pride in Jamaica being know as a homophobic country and endorses intolerance towards homosexuals. This form of mentality helps to censor school materials across the country. For example, a Religious Education book (New Steps in Religious in Education for the Caribbean " was banned because of the manner in which it dealt with homosexuality: “Many people do find  it very difficult to accept that same-sex relationships are normal,” (Keene, 2003, p. 34).

According to Mr. Thompson, “the book was widely used in All-age and High Schools for grade 9 students. Parents had a problem with same-sex relationships being considered as normal. This was offensive. The book also contained an image (See Apendix.1) of two female embracing each other. The parents then decided that they don’t want their children to be exposed to such material which promotes homosexuality. Eventually, the Ministry of Education removed the book from the nine grade (9) curricula,” (Retrieved from interview on July 8 2011).  Similarly, Dyer and Maynord (2004) book was censored, because of supportive homosexual statements as shown below:

“When two woman or two men live together in a relationship as lesbians or gays, they may be considered as a family. They may adopt children or have them through artificial insemination,” (p. 4)

On the contrary, the freedom of expression and constitutional rights of other citizens are being breached by censorship. Based on chapter (III) of the Jamaica Constitution Order Council (1962),Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purposes of this section the said freedom includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference with his correspondence and other means of communication.” Thus, all person including students, teachers, parents and authors should be entitled to equal rights under the constitution. However, this is not always the case. When it comes to the rights of a child a parent is given power under the law to speak and decide what is deem as appropriate and safe for children consumption and exposure. In that, under the Child Care and Protection Act (2004):

(3) This Act shall be interpreted and administered so that the best interests of the child is the paramount consideration and in accordance with the following principles -(a) children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect and harm or threat of harm;” (p .8).

 Thus, materials and texts within a school book that are considered harmful, parents or guardians are therefore bound by law to protect  their children from accessing such information. Likewise, if parents or teachers advocate for the censoring of homosexuality content or other sexual content within school books, “in the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health” according to the Jamaica Constitution Order Council, 1962, it is highly possibly that such book will be banned by the school or education ministry in the interest of the parents. Unfortunately, the right of other students to received, the academic freedom of teachers to teach, and the freedom of press for authors are likely to be ignored. Thus when it comes to the school system, parents, teachers, school administrators and students, authors freedom of expression in regards to censorship of sexuality in school texts, the right of students and parents are more significant, and depend on their concerns about a particular school text, it may be endorsed or refuted.

Finally, the educational policies and practices endorse or refute censorship and freedom of expression
of sexuality as it relates to school texts. The Unites States of America and Jamaica explicitly differs due to their own unique culture, values and norms. In the United States being gay is not unlawful. Their law provides provisions that protect the right of homosexuals from discrimination or hate crime.  It’s a liberal society and supports equality for all. For instance, if a book mentions that same-sex relationships are deemed as normal or as a family, the resistance to such book would be little or non-existent, when compared to Jamaica. However, Booth (1992) suggested  that “together we must forge a curriculum that will allow children, freedom to think and freedom to challenge and make their own decision as lifelong learners,” (p. 12-13). Indeed, today’s children should not be grown in a hypothetical sterile bubble which simulate reality, so that they can be aware of their fundamental rights and freedom.

Furthermore, freedom of expression of sexuality in reference to schools texts are censored because, censors such as parents have the right to protect their children from materials deemed as offensive or inappropriate for their children  In regards to the author's  right to freedom of expression whether they are in the United states or Jamaica educational policies and then right of students will take precedence over the right of the author, unfortunately in most cases the right to receive information by others student are neglected or forgotten. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

U.S. Senate Voted “NO” To Expanded Gun Background Checks

With an overwhelming public support of 90%  in favor of Gun control (Manchin-Toomey Amendment) to S. 649, the Firearms Bill expanding background checks on firearms sales as well as a proposal to ban some semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault weapons, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday April, 17, 2013 voted {YEA 54, NAY 46} to struck down the Bill.

According to ABC News (2012), “the number of people killed by firearms in the United States remains high.  The FBI Uniform Crime Reported between 2006 and 2010 (47,856) people were murdered in the U.S. by firearms, more than twice as many as were killed by all other means combined."

In an attempt to curb the alarming death rate by firearms and mass shootings/killings in the U.S., along with the resent killing of 20 first-graders and five other educators in Newtown, Connecticut in December, the Bill was designed to keep guns out of the hands of:

1.      Terrorists
2.      Gang Members
3.      Criminals
4.      Violent Offenders
5.      Mentally ill/Deranged Persons
6.      And Al-Qaeda Members

across America. "Instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby (National Rifle Association, NRA) and its allies willfully lied about the bill," Obama told White House reporters. He called it a "pretty shameful day for Washington" and questioned, "Who are we here to represent?"

Sadly, the relatives of gun violence victims as well as former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a gun owner who was disabled in a shooting attack were disappointed and heartbroken by the Senate’s decision to not protect or save innocent lives and families, especially our children across America. The families vowed not to give up on the fight for common sense legislation's to keep guns out of the hands of malicious and mentally deranged individuals.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Emergency Contraceptive (Plan B) Prevents Abortion:The Conservative Argument.

I strongly support the U.S. District Federal Court Judge Edward Korman’s ruling on April 5, 2013 that girls of all ages should have unrestricted access to Plan B (Oral Contraceptive).  The “safe and harmless morning after pill (Plan B)”, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in my opinion not only prevents unwanted pregnancies among teens and adults, it will eventually reduce the number of abortions per year in the USA.

I respect a woman’s sexual and reproductive rights to choose when it comes to her body, however at the same time abortion should be a last resort or a non-starter in many cases. It is considered to be a conservative argument to support the use of contraceptives in order to mitigate or end the wide spread practice of abortion.

In today’s society girls are often exposed to unwanted sexual activities at very young ages who often report incidents of rape and sexual abuse. Sadly, we often discover that their protective guardians and close friends are mainly the perpetrators or culprits of such abuse. Yes! We have continuously failed to protect and safe guard our children’s safety and future.

In 2008 the CDC estimates indicated that “female teen’s ages 15 to 19 abortion rates then was about 18 per 1,000 persons.” The 2012 CDC NCHS Data Brief showed that “U.S. teen birth rate declined 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, reaching a historic low at 34.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15–19.” Any non-medical rational for an abortion is one too many, and where such engagement can be prevented, fertile women of all ages should have unrestricted access to contraceptives, such as Plan-B.

Like many other over the counter contraceptives, Plan-B’s side effects include: changes in the menstrual cycle, dizziness, headache and nausea. These are said to be harmless to female of all ages, including young, sexually active fertile girls.  

Finally, the concerns and rights of parents should not be trivialized, and should have been taken into consideration. In spite of the Judge’s ruling, early initiations of sex and teen pregnancies are a reality and are at an alarming rate in this country.  Therefore unrestricted access to sex education and harmless contraceptives are imperative.

Gay Jamaicans attacked In Carnival Road March

Picture of  alleged LGBT Jamaicans attacked at street parade in Kingston (2013)

On April 7, 2013, during an annual street parade (Bacchanal/Carnival road march) in Jamaica a group of alleged LGBT participants (gay men) were attacked/stoned by anti-gay revellers. The gay men retaliated and their actions could be described as self-defense. 

According to Jamaica Gleaner news report, "A group of  homosexual men dancing with each other in a sexually suggestive manner were attacked by anti-gay revellers. The melee continued for about half an hour as the alleged gay men retaliated. Explosions resembling the sound of gunshots were heard and the gay men ran onto Eastwood Park Road. At least three people were injured. "

Responding to the attack, Maurice Tomlinson, Jamaica's leading Gay rights Activist, stated "While the Jamaica Gleaner’s article is more balanced, the Jamaica Observer's reporting is typically designed to vilify gays by making them out to be the instigators of the ensuing violence. Characteristically, the Observer refused to acknowledge the role of homophobia in savage assaults such as these. Instead, the paper preferred to blame gay Jamaicans for daring to be too visible. This is the type of reasoning used to justify rape as being the fault of females who dared to dress provocatively. 

I frequently point out that the Jamaica Observer is owned by Gordon "Butch" Stewart who also owns the Sandals and Beaches Resorts. It is disgusting that Butch, who employs (exploits) gays to keep guests happy is also able to profit from supporting such blatant attacks on LGBT human rights. 
Jamaica's refusal to accept the right to freedom of expression of LGBT citizens threatens to further destabilize the country. There is ample precedent that it is only a matter of time before gay Jamaicans take the matter of their liberty into their own hands. One only wonders what Sandals and Beaches will then do to counter the public relations fall-out which will drive tourists away from the island and their resorts?"

It is evident that the rights of gay and lesbian Jamaicans to exist, be seen and heard continue to be trampled and abused. Homosexuals living in Jamaica will continue to live in fear of being killed, until the government and people of Jamaica recognizes that human rights are gay rights and gay rights are human rights.

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