We have to face it to erase itMonday, May 03, 2021
Jenny Jones, senior researcher at the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA), last week shared shocking findings on the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on lower-income communities. She was speaking at a web forum presented by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) who, with the VPA, had gathered the information primarily from poor communities and nine hospitals serving these communities. She noted that in households with children there is “huge mental stress” related to being home from school with no school lunch or breakfast, insufficient devices, and sometimes no Internet access.
The most distressing part of Jones' presentation was the discovery “of increased sexual abuse particularly by stepfathers at home while mothers are gone out to hustle”. She said the police have “intelligence that leads them to believe that some idle schoolboys, with more time to watch pornography, experiment on younger children”.
I am sorry to write this because it is sickening: “The May Pen Hospital saw a horrific increase in rapes of children between the ages of two to 10,” she disclosed. “For a whole year the SMO (senior medical officer) said he would normally see one, or at most two, of this age group. Now he saw nine in one month and some of these he said were vicious.”
Jones refers to “unexpected findings — the widespread acceptance of transactional sex in younger girls… This is under-age girls we are talking about — 12, 13, 14, 15 years old, some not even at a grade 6 in primary school”.
Disturbingly, she notes, “Many in the community see nothing wrong with this. They see this as helping poor families. There is no concept of the fact that a 12- or 13- or 15-year-old child is not only legally not capable of consent, but also among the majority of the community there is no awareness of the emotional and psychological damage of early sexualisation.”
Interestingly, intimate partner violence has not increased, and interviewees shared that, with the curfew situation, men were afraid that if their partner left them they would have no company. I would add, they would have no one to wait on them, hand and foot.
“We need more social workers going into our communities… life in volatile communities is very harsh and stressful. Social workers can give a listening ear, they can counsel, they can point out other options, they can lead people to other support agencies,” suggested Jones.
She wants to see support units in hospitals to which child abuse cases can be referred immediately. In this emergency, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) may need additional staffing. We have to squarely face these issues and show that we are addressing them with urgency.
We must do more
Members of the Gender Advisory Committee (GAC) have released a statement, noting, “We are deeply troubled about the implications of the alleged abusive behaviour of MP [Member of Parliament] George Wright. The first context is the 'physical altercation' reported to the police by MP George Wright and Tannisha Singh on April 6, 2021. They are allegedly linked to the circulation on social media, of a violent battering of a woman by a man. The second context is the rising incidents of family and domestic violence. This incident brings to the fore the perpetuation of violence against women and girls (VAW). It amplifies the absence of effective institutional mechanisms to curb gender-based violence (GBV). We must do more to end this perpetual cycle of violence and abuse!”
They have requested an urgent meeting with Olivia “Babsy” Grange, minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport. “We must expedite specific actions that can accelerate the achievement of the goals and objectives of the National Policy for Gender Equality (NPGE),” they wrote. “This action is imperative to bring short-term and longer-term protection and relief to women, girls, and families affected, as well as to curb the escalation of GBV.”
I join them in urging “every Jamaican to do more to end the scourge of gender-based violence and all forms of violence in Jamaica”.
Big BOOST for STEM
We could listen to these cases and lose hope, but then along comes Gary “Butch” Hendrickson, who takes them as challenges. Last Tuesday the National Baking Company chairman announced a $159 million sponsorship of the Building out our STEM Teachers (BOOST) Programme. Noting that the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranked Jamaica at 73rd out of 137 countries in terms of the quality of science and mathematics education, the company's foundation, chaired by Brian Jardim, has entered into a “back-end incentivised scholarship scheme” with The University of the West Indies (UWI). Minna Israel, special advisor to The UWI vice chancellor, has played a dynamic role in spearheading this programme.
For each of the next six years a new cohort of National Baking Company fellows, representing the best science and education graduates from The UWI, will be placed in high schools to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. The fellows will receive a scholarship equivalent to the cost of one year of their university tuition for each year they spend in the programme, up to three years, and a further incentive payment for excellent performance. Fellows will also benefit from specially designed mentorship schemes, summer training, outreach programmes, and networking opportunities. The Mico University College is a collaborating partner on the programme, which has the full endorsement of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information.
“The aim of this donation is to literally 'boost' Jamaica's development agenda through improving our competencies in STEM,” noted Butch Hendrickson. “There is a lot of work to be done. A revolving cohort of the best science and maths graduates is one way to increase the number of STEM teachers. This will eventually help to build empowered communities, besides enhancing the capacity of The University of the West Indies to assist and guide young Jamaicans towards a more prosperous future.”
High notes of hope
High notes of hope were sounded by the Alpha Boys' School Band last Monday in the same week that Alpha celebrated its 141st anniversary. They heralded the opening of the new Colm Delves Centre named for the late CEO of the Digicel Group and sponsored by the Digicel Jamaica Foundation.
The Digicel headquarters in downtown Kingston was also renamed in honour of Colm Delves on Monday afternoon. As staff and friends spoke of their special relationship with this man and, as Chairman Denis O'Brien described his leadership in the global expansion of the company, it was clear that Colm Delves' name would call us to a level of excellence and compassion which we can only hope to attain.
O'Brien also visited Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton to whom he presented US$1 million for the National Health Fund, led by Howard Mitchell, for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines for Jamaica as part of a continuation of the Digicel Foundation's support in our fight against COVID-19.
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