CHURCH leaders came in for strong lashing yesterday for their strident opposition to the decriminalisation of abortion while remaining mostly silent concerning men who rape and impregnate women and girls, often forcing them to abort the pregnancy.
Seemingly a lone voice in the parliamentary wilderness as she battles for decriminalising of abortions — pre-term removal of the foetus from the uterus — junior minister for health and wellness Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn also wants the men who put women in that situation to be punished, including being sent to prison.
“When we start to find these men that are committing these crimes and start charging them, I think we will be sending a strong message — that is what I want to see. You [church leaders] are punishing the 12- and 13-year-old for being pregnant by telling them to have the baby, and yet you are not crying out the church is not crying out, to go and find these men who are doing these crimes and to punish them accordingly,” said the former athlete-turned-politician.
“It is a case where the Church comes out and screams that we should not decriminalise abortion but I do not hear the church screaming at these men who are impregnating the young girls and saying the law must find them,” Cuthbert-Flynn told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.
According to data from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Latin America and the Caribbean ranks second among the regions of the world for adolescent pregnancy rates, with 60.7 births per 1,000 girls between the age of 15 and 19 years. Data also indicated that five out of every 100 pregnancies occur in girls under the age of 20.
Locally, between January and June 2020 the National Children's Registry received over 1,000 reports of sexual abuse that have been referred for investigation.
Although there was a decline in reports significantly in April (82) and May (119), they increased again in June to 228.
Weighing in on Cuthbert-Flynn's fiery accusation, some church spokesmen flinched when asked for their views by the Observer, most saying that, although there might be less utterance about rape and impregnation when compared to the abortion matter, they are still strongly against the issue.
Rev Merrick “Al” Miller, senior pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle in St Andrew, said the Church remains “quite concerned”, but seemed more vocal about abortion as it is becoming an accepted norm in society.
“I understand what she [the minister] is saying, but it is not 100 per cent true. The fact that the Church is not crying out against them publicly does not mean that the Church supports them. One of the reasons why we are not as vocal is because abortion is about taking a life, and so the Church will talk about the fact that life is already there and you must not take it — taking a life is not in our prerogative; that's the prerogative of God,” Miller declared.
“The Church could not support men who rape and impregnate women. It is disgusting behaviour, and men who do that are not classified as men, neither in scripture nor anywhere else — they are males…irresponsible males,” added Rev Miller.
Agreeing that the Church should do more, he also pointed out that some of our men are not properly trained due to poor parenting, absence of fathers in the household, and being praised by society for some elicit activities.
“Certainly, we need to equally speak to this situation of men who do that and we need to retrain them. The Church must do much more than it has been doing on that matter, I have no problem in acknowledging that. We have not done enough. At the same time, the society needs to help the Church to do its job because the Church has limited resources,” he admitted.
Rev Devon Dick of Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew agreed with Miller that the Church had been crying out against the issue, but added that harsher penalties on such men were necessary.
“The young girls should not feel as if they have done something wrong. They are the victims and they should be fully supported. We could do more, but it is really a violation of young girls as it can mar their future and set them back educationally, economically, and emotionally.
“It is a heinous crime; it is right up there with murder, and the punishment should be severe. The unfortunate thing is that too many persons turn a blind eye,” he told the Observer.
Apostle Dr Neva Campbell at Kingdom 180 International said: “I agree that the Church has not come out against it [men impregnating young girls]; only when you hear violence against women and the woman is killed, that's when you hear much talk. But I agree that the man, likewise, should be punished and charged,” she said.
“Not much is being said about it, and it is sad that it has to come to that point. I think what is happening, though, is that we have missed the point of justice as it relates to Church. We go against things like carnival…but we do not go against what speaks to the psychosocial aspect of the individual, and men get a free pass most of the time, and I don't think it should be so,” added Apostle Campbell.
Pastor Valin Smith, of St John's Green Acres Church of the Nazarene in St Catherine, said the Church should reaffirm its stand against men who take advantage of minors and speak more about the matter publicly.
However, pointing out that some people prefer to get help privately, he said :“Not everyone likes the public domain in that way, and the churches do their best work behind the scenes in terms of not seeking the applause of men, and it has greater effectiveness. The public action may bring attention, [but] sometimes it also causes people to go into hiding. I can understand, too, because I have taken that sort of approach.”
Cuthbert-Flynn, who is also the Member of Parliament for St Andrew West Rural, pointed out that there were situations of sexual assault which, she said, occurs in several constituencies across the island.
“When a father is continuously raping his own child — a 13- or 14-year-old minor – and then that child gets pregnant, I think it is just horrible that we, as a country, are still telling that child that 'Your father abused you by raping you and you must also bring this child into the world.' I think we really need to look at ourselves. Where is the moral? Where is the empathy? That is the problem that I am having,” said Cuthbert-Flynn.