Since the start of May, which is being observed as Child Month, The Gleaner has been featuring the stories of a number of young women who report being molested and raped as children or teenagers by older men, often family members or their mothers’ boyfriends. This is not a new phenomenon, but rather a longstanding problem in the society. Recent figures show that more than 3,000 cases of child rape and carnal abuse were reported to the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR) in 2013, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that hundreds of other cases were not reported. This represents a 23 per cent increase over the number reported in 2012.
Last year, preliminary data from the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) showed that sexual offences against minors accounted for 907 of the 1,228 cases reported to the unit in 2014. Of these 907 cases, 504 involved sexual intercourse with children under 16 years old, while 68 involved sexual touching. While the number of reported cases decreased, we cannot take comfort in that because there are still many children and teens who are afraid and/or ashamed to come forward due to the trauma and stigma associated with sexual violence.
There have been many attempts over the years to stem this wave of sexual violence against the nation’s children. One of the most recent is the Nuh Guh Deh campaign piloted by Eve for Life, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) founded in 2008 to support to women and children living with or affected by HIV and AIDS. The campaign was first introduced in 2013, specifically aimed at older men who target young girls for sex, and teenagers who engage in risky sexual behaviours. It was officially launched on November 25, 2014, in recognition of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, as part of the UN Agencies “UNITE” campaign, which aims to address the global pandemic of violence against women and girls. The programme currently focuses on urging select communities in St Ann, St James and Westmoreland to take specific actions to prevent the covering up of sexual activities with children and to hold perpetrators accountable.
The Nuh Guh Deh campaign also provides psycho-social support for girls and young women in these parishes who have been thus victimised called ROAR – Restoring Order to All Relationships. They are able to speak with ‘Mentor Moms’ – a network of young mothers are also survivors of sexual violence, receive counselling and are educated on how they can protect themselves and their children at monthly meetings. There are also community forums to sensitise resident to the grave reality of rape and carnal abuse, and urge them to report any interaction between adult men and underage girls that they may witness. The communities have been responding positively to the campaign, which Eve for Life hopes to expand to other parishes as soon as it can acquire the necessary funds.