ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The National Strategic Plan to end gender-based violence mandates that a committee be established to review the deficiencies of the nation’s sexual offences laws with an intention to strengthening them.
At the launch of the five-year action plan by the Directorate of Gender Affairs yesterday, minister responsible for Gender Affairs Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro said some of the nation’s laws are outdated.
“We want to bring them in line with 21stcentury standards and look at some of the laws that currently obtain in some of our Caricom and OECS countries as well as further afield to ensure that they are in line with the conventions that we have signed,” she said.
“We want to ensure that protecting our human rights, and to ensure that they are punitive enough and preventative as well.”
Nurse Valerie Williams, co-ordinator of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), said she would specifically like to see mandatory reporting laws enacted as have been done in other countries.
“Some of us are in positions where we know that things are happening, children are being abused under our watch and we don’t report it. In many parts of the world it is mandatory and you could be arrested for not reporting it if you know,” she said.
Dr Quinn-Leandro repeated a call that she had made several years ago for legislation to compel authorities to pursue investigations even when victims are unwilling to come forward.
The gender affairs minister said in many cases parents and relatives are complicit in covering up the assault of children in their care.
In addition to review and adopting protective legislation, the strategic plan also calls for advocacy and raising awareness and effective capacity building for care and support.
The strategic plan calls for capacity building of those service-providers who interact with victims of abuse and sexual assault on a daily basis.
Nurse Williams reported that towards that end 17 nurses have been trained as SANEs to staff a sexual assault referral centre. The centre is meant to centralise all the services need by victims of sexual assault.
Currently, there is no timeline for when the referral centre will become functional as the body is still looking for a home.
The launch of the strategic plan on International Day to End Violence against Women began the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence 2013.
The theme this year is: Partnering to educate and eradicate Gender Based Violence and the spread of HIV.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)