UNICEF: Child sexual abuse underreported
By Nelson A. King UNITED NATIONS, CMC – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says sexual violence against children in the Caribbean is “greatly underreported,” noting also it is often “culturally sanctioned”.
In a report issued here on Saturday, UNICEF said child sexual abuse is “shrouded in secrecy and abetted by shame.
“A study in Jamaica indicated that men often believe they have a right to engage in sex with girls under their care, while children in Guyana reported believing that sexual violence can be blamed on a victim’s clothing,” the report said.
“Sexual violence against boys is especially underreported, and in some countries, is not even recognized as a crime,” it added.
Nadine Perrault, UNICEF Regional Child Protection Adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean, said sexual abuse happens everywhere “at home, at school and in other institutions, and has serious physical, psychological and social impact not only on girls and boys but also on the fabric of society.
“It is one of the main factors that contribute to HIV infections, and that is why it is not surprising that this region has one of the highest prevalence of HIV and AIDS worldwide,” she said.
“Our experiences in preventing and responding to sexual abuse have taught us that laws by themselves have been ineffective in protecting children, mainly because of the silence surrounding the issue and the risks that victims face in speaking out , risks such as stigma, shame, harm and further violence,” she said, adding “and then, often, children do not know where to turn”.
In addressing the taboo surrounding child sexual abuse, UNICEF pointed to a “Teddy Bear Campaign” developed by the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago.
Using the image of a teddy bear, with a band-aid over its heart and the tagline “Break the Silence”, UNICEF said the initiative has “mobilized a wide range of government and non-governmental partners to protect children from sexual abuse”.
The campaign was discussed this week in Jamaica during UNICEF’s Sub-Regional Meeting for Follow-up to the UN Study on Violence Against Children in the Caribbean.
UNICEF said it is currently working to expand the reach of this campaign to other countries in the Caribbean.
“Something that has touched me deeply in the discussions that took place during this conference is the really high incidence of sexual abuse in the Caribbean,” said Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative on Violence against Children for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“I think everyone in the region seems incredibly committed to moving forward and very encouraged by the opportunity to replicate the Teddy Bear Campaign.
“I am confident that the materials will be replicated and tailored to each country, and we will have greater awareness, greater commitment and fewer cases to be regretted,” Pais said.
Dr. Sandra Knight, a general practitioner at the paediatric hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, said widespread sexual violence against children has forced her to speak out on the matter.
“I felt that my peers were becoming complacent about this issue,” she said in the report, adding “but I felt I had a tsunami in front of me, which was affecting me because I also have a six-year-old daughter. I saw these children dying, getting sick, being traumatized for life.
“It is a vicious cycle. Mothers who have been abused as children, and who did not get help, see this again in their children and don’t do anything about it or resent them for it, looking at it in a distorted way.
“Some of them felt so much shame that they don’t want their children to go through that and cover it up,” Dr. Knight added.