Minister of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth, Stephen Lashley, has called for the setting up of a “special hotline” that would allow children to call and report cases of child sexual abuse.
He made the call today, at the presentation of awards to winners of the UNICEF/Barbados Government Information Service Essay and Poster Competitions at United Nations House, Marine Gardens. Participants had to examine and depict the theme: Child Sexual Abuse through My Eyes: How Do I Protect Myself?
The Minister told those in attendance that it was a shame that “in 2012, we have to face this issue of child sexual abuse”.
“Still, we have to face the dark reality that we still have persons engaging in this act… I hope that we will even move to the point of establishing a special hotline in Barbados whereby our children, no matter how young, no matter how old, can call and make complaints about child sexual abuse. It is that serious a matter,” Lashley said.
He added that at the root of child sexual abuse was not only “the silence” but the phenomenon that children were not given the tools and skills to protect themselves. And, as a result there was a high incidence of sexual abuse in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean.
Lashley said that when the Mandatory Reporting Protocols were established next year, the public would be held responsible for reporting incidences of child sexual abuse. He stressed that it was impossible to break the silence which fuelled the act unless adults and policy makers took a public stance on the issue.
He lauded UNICEF and the BGIS for providing an outlet for children to talk about sexual abuse, and urged the wider media to follow suit. However, Lashley said the issue went far beyond the competition.
“I want to say to our young people that we are here for you and that we will protect you, but you should feel bold enough to not stand for improper sexual conduct or behaviour from anyone; whether it is your parents, your guardians, your friends, your peers or strangers.
“So, you need to understand that having written these essays and having participated in this exercise that you now become champions and you need to talk to your friends at school and tell them the issues that concern child sexual abuse.
Improper touching and improper sexual overtures are not to be condoned. And, that you can tell someone whom you trust and that they will, in turn, report it to the authorities,” the Minister said.
Attorney-at-law, Legal consultant and Barbados’ Champion for Children, Faith Marshall-Harris, told those attending the presentation that national statistics on child sexual abuse were a cause for concern.
“Barbados, just like the rest of the region and the world, is not exempt from this terrible scourge. We have collected our statistics here in Barbados and it is a trend that bothers us. I think the only positive thing is that we suspect we are getting more reporting done.
“[Child sexual abuse] robs children of their physical, psychological and emotional well-being. It robs them of their childhood which is infinitely precious. When that happens and we do nothing and remain silent we are complicit in robbing this nation of its future – a future which requires confident and well-adjusted citizens,” she said.
The Essay Competition winners were: Forms 1 to 3 – Cya Layne, Harrison College, 1st place; Petersan Sealey, Coleridge & Parry School, 2nd; and Gabrielle Leonce, Christ Church Foundation School, 3rd.
Winners in the Forms 4 to 5 category were: Naomi Clarke, The St. Michael School, 1st; Rohan Daniel, Coleridge & Parry School, 2nd; and Tennielle Graham, The St. Michael School, 3rd.
The poster competition winners were Classes 1 to 2: Jaheim Gooding; St. Bartholomew Primary School, 1st; Kenyon Connell, Eden Lodge Primary School, 2nd; and Tiffany Webster, Charles F Broome Memorial, 3rd.
Those who took home trophies and prizes in the Classes 3 to 4 category were Chaquon Griffith, Charles F Broome Memorial, 1st; Shaliyah Wood, Wesley Hall Junior School, 2nd; and Jordan-Lee Alleyne, home-schooled, 3rd.
The Special UNICEF Award went to Niel Skinner of St. Stephen’s Primary School. In addition, the award for the school with the most essay submissions went to The St. Michael School, with 10 entries while the award for the school with the most Poster Submissions was copped by Charles F. Broome Memorial which had four entries.
The winning schools in the Essay Competition were Harrison College and The St. Michael School. St. Bartholomew Primary School and Charles F. Broome Memorial were the winning schools in the poster competition.