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Time to end abuse

United Nations Children’s Fund Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Bernt Aasen, this morning called on Caribbean countries to start translating commitments on ending sexual violence against children into concrete actions.

(From Left) Professor Christine Barrow of the Cave Hill Campus, Dr. Adele Jones of the University of Huddersfield, and Director of the Grenada Legal Aid and Counselling Clinic, Jacqueline Sealy- Burke deliberating on conference documents on the opening day of the conference. (Photo by: UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Office/George Babb)

Aasen was delivering the keynote address at the Opening Ceremony of the meeting on Combatting Sexual Violence Against Children in the Caribbean: From Isolated Actions to Integrated Strategies, which is being held at the Hilton Barbados Resort from November 20 to 21.

“Each of us … has been chipping away, at times almost in isolation from other actors,” said Aasen as he called on everyone to join forces on improving prevention and care through action that includes legislative reform, integrated services, improved surveillance and monitoring systems, and better use of technologies and sciences in prosecuting.

He said there were about 150 million girls and 73 million boys under age 18 worldwide who had experienced forced sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual violence.

“In the Caribbean, 47.6 per cent of girls and 31.9 per cent of boys reported that their first intercourse was forced or coerced by family members or family acquaintances. In a study of adult survivors in the Caribbean, 30 per cent of female respondents from Barbados reported to have been sexually abused during their childhood,” he said.

Despite the fact that statistics were alarming, the regional director said there was still some public and private ambivalence to the issue of child sexual abuse.

“The glimmer of hope is that tides are shifting. The UN General Assembly Special Session in 2002 declared a commitment to ‘end impunity for all crimes against children by bringing perpetrators to justice and publicizing the penalties for such crimes’. These commitments are being echoed in the Caribbean,” he said.

UN Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the OECS, Michelle Gyles-McDonnough commented though, that there was still some distance to go in addressing the issue.

“There still remains much work to be done in creating legislation to address sexual abuse issues, including child trafficking; strengthening institutional capacity; and enforcement to support current legislation. In reality, and according to the Caribbean Regional Assessment, weak institutional capacity to enforce the laws and inadequate funding for research and public education are among the challenges in identifying and supporting child victims of sexual abuse and enforcing suitable legislation in Caribbean countries,” she said.

Also addressing the Opening Ceremony were Minister of Family and Youth, Stephen Lashley, who encouraged frank and open discussion to lead to recommendations at the end of the two days, and Programme Manager, Human Resource Development with the CARICOM Secretariat, Morella Joseph, who urged governments to push the problem higher on national agendas.

Meeting deliberations will continue tomorrow with a focus on creating a network on ending child sexual abuse and producing a country-level action agenda. (LB)

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