The shock, tinged with not a little irony, that the leader of the adult entertainment industry set a high moral tone as he blew the whistle about sex among the island’s high school students, has all but given way to the deeply unsettling realism of the original complaint.
That complaint by Charlie ‘Spice’ Lewis, the head of the Adult Industry Association about rampant illicit romps going viral on the internet and possibly making Barbados no mere sex tourism destination but a huge target for overseas paedophiles is not so much as shocking as it is deeply unsettling.
Perhaps, then, it is time that we all lift our heads out of the metaphorical sand.
But first, make no mistake that we abhor the shameless acts of adults who prey on children for their selfish urges. We look forward to law enforcers hauling wrongdoers before the law courts.
But there is sexual activity between curious boys and girls. This is as old as the hills. Even the most pious among us can recall listening in on discreet tales about the ‘games’ in the so-called good old days.
Yet children are not prepared mentally, biologically or in any other material sense for sex and its likely results – from pregnancy to disease. And what has been a private illicit moment can no longer be private in the age of social media.
Over the past two to three years, according to Lewis, countless numbers of videos have been circulating via social and interpersonal media platforms, depicting children, mostly girls, performing sexual acts.
He said: “What is even more alarming is that some of these kids are having sex in their school uniforms, which is highly disgraceful and disrespectful to their schools, their teachers and their parents.
“I am inundated with young girls in the streets in Bridgetown and wherever I go, bragging to me that they are involved in commercial sex activities.”
As a society, we cannot condone this state of affairs. Too much is at stake.
And importantly, Lewis went on to raise a number of questions that we believe deserve answers.
“Are the videos we get to see only a fraction of the number of school kids having sex; why have the morals, values and self respect of our children in Barbadian society deteriorated so low that they not only have sex in schools but deliberately allow videos of these acts to be produced and posted on social media; are parents doing enough to stem this problem; and is the Government and the school administrators doing enough?”
More and more popular culture impresses our youth to “free up” with little thought of the consequences.
And as if that wasn’t enough, some adults, mother and fathers, aunts and uncles have been setting the wrong examples with their own less-than-exemplary lifestyles.
There’s no one answer to this societal problem. We agree with Education Minister Santia Bradshaw that all hands are needed to tackle the problem.
There’s no getting away from the fact that home drums beat first. Parents must parent. And sex is a natural part of life and this foolish taboo of hiding it from children merely invites more, fateful, curiosity.
In addition to denial, there is profound ignorance for parents who, after buying children the latest smartphone or cyber gadget, disengage themselves completely from what their children are reading, seeing, or sharing. It’s time to get real.
A critical response must also come from the education system.
We need to ensure that having cell phones and other technology in schools is clearly thought out and correct safeguards are implemented to prevent children from engaging in mischief.
And then comes the elephant in the room – the inescapable logic that requires the introduction of mandatory comprehensive sex education.
We are aware that Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) is on the school curriculum but this may need to be made more relevant given the latest revelations of the culture we live in.
We are only too aware of some parents and religious figures who will protest loudly on the grounds that the best place for sex education is in the home. But in far too many instances, parents themselves appear to be ill-equipped to explain this touchy subject and, worse yet, deny that their children discuss or engage in sexual activity.
Sex education simply has nothing to do with persuading children to have sex or coaching them about how to engage in sex acts. Rather it teaches about the implications of unwise choices, the normal impulses of adolescence, and developing high self-esteem and sound judgment in interpersonal relationships.
It also teaches that abstinence and delaying the start of sexual activity is the best method for avoiding sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.
But it must also provide lessons on condoms and contraception to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and of infection with sexually transmitted infections.
All these positive messages should be reinforced at home, at school, the community and yes, even the church.
We have not reached the point of no return. Instead of pointing fingers, sharing illicit videos and judging children, it is time we take individual and collective responsibility to help save the next generation.