ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Lack of government co-operation and delayed implementation, according to UNICEF, continues to be a major challenge when addressing the issue of child sexual abuse as it continues to plague the Caribbean despite attempts to decrease its predominance.
Speaking to OBSERVER Media on the matter, Khin-Sandi Lwin, UNICEF representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said the international organisation is petitioning government ministers and other bodies to realise the seriousness of the issue and act accordingly.
“The legislation for many countries is in place, but translating it into action takes champions,” Lwin said.
“These champions need to come from political leaders, religious leaders, (and) influential citizens.”
Lwin said UNICEF doesn’t implement anything. It supports actors, governments and non-government agencies to implement policies.
“We help these stakeholders to have the right tools in place. One is legislation and the other is protocol for mandatory reporting of such cases, helping police respond effectively. These are the different mechanisms we help actors implement,” Lwin noted.
She further said members of society should also step forward and report cases of abuse, especially to women and mothers, rather than turn a blind eye.
“That next step is having society say, ‘it’s happening in the next house; we’re not going to turn the other way. We will alert the police (and) alert the social workers so that they can take action.’” In many parts of the world, this type of action is known as zero tolerance.
The child advocate said that there are many child abuse cases across the Caribbean and around the world where matters are being reported and then withdrawn because of various reasons.
However, there’s need to address this from different angles and women need to be supported to pursue these cases further to protect their children.
Societal support would not only contribute to the reduction of child abuse cases, but it would also aid women and mothers who want to protect their children, but are left to tolerate the abuse because of their economic and emotional dependence on the offender.
“If there is a support system the cases see it through the court. You need to hold the hands of people who are reaching out for help,” Lwin added.
Meantime, UNICEF will be hosting regional meeting later this year to further develop ways in which the issue of child sexual abuse can be addressed in the Caribbean.