by Brian JM Joseph
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realised for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child.
Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. By recognising children’s rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.
Those who molest children look and act just like everyone else. Abusers can be neighbours, friends, and family members. Only about one-third of child sexual abuse incidents are identified, and even fewer are reported.
Emotional and mental health problems are often the first consequence and sign of child sexual abuse. Children who are sexually abused are at significantly greater risk for later post-traumatic stress and other anxiety symptoms, depression and suicide attempts. These psychological problems can lead to significant disruptions in normal development and often have a lasting impact, leading to dysfunction and distress well into adulthood. Behavioural problems, including physical aggression, non- compliance, and oppositionality frequently occur among sexually abused children.
These emotional and behavioural difficulties can lead to delinquency, poor school performance, and dropping out of school.
Our nation’s children need to be protected from sexual violence. As adults we are designated as custodians and therefore are charged with the responsibility of Child Protection.
Child Protection refers to preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children – including commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labour. UNICEF’s child protection programmes also target children who are uniquely vulnerable to these abuses, such as when living without parental care, in conflict with the law and in armed conflict.
Violence, exploitation and abuse occur in the homes, families, schools, care and justice systems, workplaces and communities across all contexts, including as a result of conflict and natural disasters. Many children are exposed to various forms of violence, exploitation and abuse, including sexual abuse and exploitation armed violence, trafficking, child labour, gender-based violence, bullying, cyber-bullying, gang violence, physically and emotionally violent child discipline, and other harmful practices.
All children have the right to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse. Some girls and boys are particularly vulnerable because of gender, race, ethnic origin or socio-economic status. Higher levels of vulnerability are often associated with children with disabilities, who are orphaned, indigenous, from ethnic minorities and other marginalised groups. Other risks for children are associated with living and working on the streets, living in institutions and detention, and living in communities where inequality, unemployment and poverty are highly concentrated. Natural disasters, armed conflict, and displacement may expose children to additional risks. Vulnerability is also associated with age; younger children are at greater risk of certain types of violence and the risks differ as they get older.
Children’s Rights Article 4 (Protection of Rights): Governments have a responsibility to take all available measures to make sure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. When countries ratify the Convention, they agree to review their laws relating to children. This involves assessing their social services, legal, health and educational systems, as well as levels of funding for these services. Governments are then obliged to take all necessary steps to ensure that the minimum standards set by the Convention in these areas are being met. They must help families protect children’s rights and create an environment where they can grow and reach their potential. In some instances, this may involve changing existing laws or creating new ones. Such legislative changes are not imposed but come about through the same process by which any law is created or reformed within a country. Article 41 of the Convention points out the when a country already has higher legal standards than those seen in the Convention, the higher standards always prevail.
Grenada signed the CRC on 19 April 1990, and it was ratified on 9 October 1990. The Optional Protocols on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (CRC-OP-AC) and on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (CRC-OP-SC) were acceded to on 6 February 2012.
Children’s Rights States Parties that recognise the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) undertake to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse including exploitative use in prostitution and pornography (Article 34), which the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2000) further refines. Article 34 states that measures should be taken to prevent inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity, the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices and the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.
The Child Protection Authority is mandated by the Child Protection and Adoption Act 2010 to be the agency solely responsible for child protection.
Collaborative effort is needed from everyone including the Minister of Social Development, Minister of National Security, RGPF’s Special Victims Unit, Grenada National Coalition on the Rights of the Child (GNCRC) and Grenada National Organisation of Women (GNOW).
Somehow these organisations and individuals have failed in the effort to protect our nation’s children from predators within our various communities. The recent Magistrate Court ruling has also sparked outrage amongst Grenadians, and this is the second time something of that magnitude has occurred back to back and Grenadians were not pleased with the judgment handed down.
On (21) September 2018 at the launch of Special Victims Unit within the Royal Grenada Police Force and the Sexual Abuse Hotline, Dr Mitchell said it is important that all citizens are protected. “A country that does not protect its citizens, especially the most vulnerable, is a country that is doomed to failure,” he said, adding, “you can have all the economic success, but if you ignore the problems faced by the vulnerable and those crying for help, you will face enormous problems.”
Our nation’s children need the protection today, and let’s not wait until tomorrow because they’re the most vulnerable ones within our society. Both boys and girls deserve to be protected from sexual predators.
I firmly believe more is needed, and more can be done in terms of protecting our nation’s children. What we need is the redrafting of new legislations, revision of Grenada’s criminal code. Likewise, the sentencing guidelines from the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) needs reviewing so judges and magistrates can hand down steeper penalties to perpetrators. The Minister of National Security in his capacity as Prime Minister needs to do more in addressing this escalating issue.
Social Development Minister Delma Thomas made pronouncement earlier on in the year regarding a halfway house for abused girls. Although all is well and good, we also need an institution that can house boys in a conducive environment that can help them heal and reintegrate back into society.
RGPF’s Special Victims Unit has been making headway, especially the women police officers who have been doing a fantastic job. I applaud the strides that were made thus far with the RGPF’s Special Victims Unit.
Therefore, we have a long way to go before we can rid the nation of this malignancy of sexual violence.
Time for us all to become more united as a nation and say “Enough is Enough” and let’s expose and rid our communities of sexual violence by ensuring perpetrators are persecuted severely by the judicial system.