OCHO RIOS, St Ann — Scores of St Ann residents yesterday joined representatives from the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the National Centre for Youth Development (NCYP) in a protest against child abuse.
Armed with placards, the group of protestors, some dressed in black, marched through the streets on St Ann's Bay calling for an end to child abuse and for stricter punishment to be imposed on sex offenders.
"Fire 'pon all sex offenders; any man who rape a little eight-year-old girl or a six-year-old boy should be put to death," shouted a man who joined in at the start of the protest outside the NCYP office.
"Me no have no sympathy fi no man or anybody at all who abuse children, who rape little pickney, who murder little pickey, dem a wicked and dem fi dead; me a man and me woulda never think bout fi abuse a little youth like that," another man, who identified himself only as Mark, told the Jamaica Observer.
Mayor of St Ann's Bay and chairman of the St Ann Parish Council Desmond Gilmore, who was a part of the protest, said he was very concerned about the recent reported cases, especially against children.
"I'm in support of serious sanctions on those persons who are perpetuating this kind of violence against our people," Gilmore said. "I'm supporting this not only as a leader in the community, but as a father of three."
One of the organisers and youth empowerment officer, Anisa Wilson, said although the event was in solidarity with the recent reported cases of rape, it was also a way of highlighting abuse against children in St Ann.
"The issue has to be dealt with, I think the society is in denial as to the seriousness of the level of abuse against children, we have to help bring these issues to light," said Wilson, who called for stiffer penalties for child abusers.
She also wants sanctions for parents who are not actively involved in their children's life and for it to be mandatory for some parents to attend parenting seminars whether those organised by school or social groups.
Carolyn Stewart, team leader at the CDA in St Ann, said she was pleased with yesterday's turnout and was encouraged by the level of support from the public as the CDA continues to provide protection.
"At the CDA we can't do it by ourselves, it has to be a collaborated effort; one of the things that I really enjoyed about it (march) was how people just joined in, people just passed and saw what we were doing and just join in," she said.
Stewart said the CDA would continue with its community intervention and public education programmes and she said one will be held in the Claremont community next Wednesday.
She said it was also important for children to be sensitised and educated about their rights and to feel comfortable to express themselves on those issues and not to feel intimated or afraid to report incidents of abuse.
"We want to continue with our pro-active approach to child protection and not have to wait until something comes up, and that's what we want to do, to educate and empower people," she added.
Meanwhile, several students who were a part of the protest, while expressing their own disgust over recent incidents, said they were also fearful that they or persons close to them would soon become a victim.
"I am scared, Miss, I'm really scared," one female student of Marcus Garvey Technical told the Observer. "I really can't believe that someone would even think about doing that to a teenager, much less an eight year old, it is really cruel," she added.