|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 2008‐2009, 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 71child‐murder 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.