GEORGETOWN, Guyana (CMC) — Caribbean Community governments, at the end of their summit in St Lucia on the weekend, raised concerns about the increase in cases of child maltreatment, particularly sexual abuse, in the region.
"We looked at the plight of children and the need for concerted action at all levels," said Caricom Chairman and host Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony.
He said the regional leaders were "looking forward" to the 23rd meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD), which opens in Georgetown today, where the issue will be thoroughly discussed.
A Caricom Secretariat statement issued here notes there is growing concern about the alarming levels of violence against young children noting "regrettably, there is a dearth of empirical evidence on the nature, genesis, extent, causes and impact of this beast, hence the attempts to tame it has not spawned the desired outcomes.
"Violence against our region's children remains unabated," it added.
The 2006 United Nations study on Violence against Children is arguably the most telling piece of empirical exposé on the magnitude of the problem, especially in the Caribbean.
"Its findings point to the disturbing fact that violence does not discriminate between rich and poor nations and pervades all societies within which children grow up. Sadly, the report notes that violence is part of the economic, cultural and societal norms that make up many children's environment," the Secretariat said.
It said that another startling revelation is that violence in all its forms has its roots in issues such as the power relations between men and women, exclusion, absence of a primary care-giver; and in societal norms and values that often disregard the rights of children.
According to the study, other factors contributing towards the unacceptable prevalence of violence against children include drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment and youth disenfranchisement, crime and a culture of silence and impunity.
In addition, the Internet is viewed as a new space where children are both abused and exploited by the production of pornography, and are exposed to images of violence and degradation.
The 2003 World Bank's Caribbean Youth Development Report noted that the Caribbean had the earliest age of sexual "debut" in the world with many young people being initiated into sexual behaviour as a consequence of child abuse from as early as 10 years old, and in some cases even earlier.
More recently, the 2009 UNICEF study on child sexual abuse in the Eastern Caribbean not only established that the problem is escalating in the sub-region but also identified emerging forms of abuse such as the use of young boys in an organised network to service cruise ship passengers.