Teachers are flooding the Barbados Family Planning Association with calls for help as an increasing number of Barbadian children are having sex in schools, and child advocate Faith Marshall-Harris says parents are to blame.
Responding to concerns voiced by BFPA Executive Director Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland about a growing number of child sex cases in schools, Marshall-Harris who is Barbados’ Unicef Champion for Children, warned that children were practising sexual acts from an early age based on what knowledge they got from their parents.
“Early sexualization among our children and adolescents is very prevalent. We have heard, or we are aware of the narrative coming out of our primary schools – let me stress, not just secondary schools, but primary schools,” Marshall-Harris said at the BFPA annual general meeting at the Yacht Club over the weekend.
The retired magistrate, whose past duties included presiding over family matters and the juvenile court, said that based on her experience and research, “children are very often very much in the conversations, and [these are] very sexually explicit conversations [that] take place among adults,” adding that “very often sexual activity took place in the presence of children”.
“I feel it is necessary for us to recognize some unpalatable truths and to bring this grim reality to the forefront, because we must do this for the sake of our vulnerable youth, or bear the consequences in both the long and short term,” said Marshall-Harris as she delivered the feature presentation at the AGM.
In her address, the BFPA Executive Director also revealed that the association was receiving a higher number of requests for help from schools.
She referred to a caller who complained, “We have a group of people who are having oral sex in the cafeteria as if it is just after school ping pong snacks”.
The Executive Director voiced a fear for the welfare of children who badly needed help and someone to whom they could speak in confidence.
“We are increasingly concerned that in Barbados there is no place that children can go to be heard. These are the views that we’re getting from the adolescents and teenagers themselves when we go into the schools.”
She acknowledged the work of the Child Care Board and other agencies, but said, “young people sometimes feel that those entities of themselves are alienating”.
She complained of the legal “age of access disconnect” since teenagers 16 years or older could lawfully have sex, but could not seek counselling without their parents’ consent.
“Youth access to services is still limited by legislation and policy, and we are hoping that we can urge [the authorities] for an increasing focus on testing, particularly HIV testing and STI testing among 16 and 17-year-olds.
“We are allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to have sex lawfully but we don’t promote the kind of mechanisms to allow them to get the kind of access services without parental consent,” the BFPA official lamented.
She also took a swipe at certain unnamed religious groups who she said occasionally accused the association of promoting “global strange agendas” in schools, when it seeks to counsel and help children.
However, she assured that the BFPA did not encourage parental alienation.
“Our comprehensive sexuality education, the work that we are doing in schools . . . is very much grounded in what is culturally age-appropriate, and essentially undergirded by a strong emphasis on human rights and gender,” she said, while insisting, “We must be able to provide [services to teens].”