SCORES of Jamaicans, angered by Monday's gruesome attack and rape of five females, including an eight-year-old child, yesterday protested across the island and called for the death penalty for criminals who rape and abuse children.
"How can a man rape a woman much less a child; this has to stop, and the Government need to re-introduce the death penalty," said Velma Peart, a black-clad, placard-bearing protestor who was among a group of approximately 100 people who marched from Half-Way-Tree to Cross Roads in Kingston, the Jamaican capital.
"The time has come; we have to take back our society [as] this cannot be allowed to continue; the Government needs to send a strong message to these criminals," said Lillian Vassel, another woman in the group.
The women, who identified themselves as mothers, had the support of Betty Ann Blaine, child rights advocate and founder of the New Nation Coalition.
"I am calling for the death penalty for people who rape children because that little eight-year-old girl will probably never recover. It is tantamount to murder," said Blaine. "...The laws must be enforced to give them (rapists) the strongest punishment," Blaine told the Jamaica Observer.
Men who were among the protestors also condemned the vicious rape of the five on Monday and called for a stop to the sexual abuse of women and children.
"We need justice [as] this cannot continue; we need help for our children, it has to stop," said Kamal Campbell, as he marched with the protestors.
Yesterday, several motorists showed support for the action of the mainly black-clad protestors as they marched along Half-Way-Tree Road by honking their horns.
In downtown Kingston, Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, officials of the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation joined protestors in that section of the city who pleaded for an end to abuse against women and children.
"... We are encouraged by the turnout," said Audrey Budhi, director of policy, planning and evaluation at the CDA.
As protestors called for the resumption of the death penalty, Minister Hanna said strenghtening of the laws dealing with sexual abuse was a nationwide effort. "The laws are there, it is really the country that needs to give support; they need to stop hiding these persons, we need to believe our children, and when we see it happening we need to put an end to it," she said.
Hanna said, too, that there was a need for improvement in the justice system to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence were not allowed to walk free.
She added that consideration needs to be given so that children who are victims of sexual violence may be allowed to give evidence by video. "Sometimes when these children sit on a court stand they fall apart when they have to recount the information. Some of them block it out completely and are not able to testify and [so] a number of the perpetrators walk free," said Hanna.
Sandrea Falconer, minister without portfolio responsible for information, also said the focus should be on strengthening current laws that deal with sexual abuse.
Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, the Opposition spokesperson on youth and gender affairs, meanwhile, said the time has come for Jamaicans to come forward and to do what is necessary to "clamp down on this problem once and for all".
General Secretary of the Jamaica Council of Churches Rev Gary Harriott, who also joined protestors yesterday, called for Jamaicans to take a stand against violence.