Despite incest remaining a fundamental problem in society, Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison said there is still silence about the topic across the island.
“You will get information that it is happening but because there is a culture of tolerance and letting ‘family business remain family business’, these instances do not necessarily convert into an active report to a police station, which would then lead to an investigation then an arrest,” Gordon Harrison said on Thursday.
Gordon Harrison told THE WEEKEND STAR that there were systems in place to penalise perpetrators but the lack of “evidential material” has only led child sex investigators to dead ends.
“If you are going to look at sexual abuse and sexual offences under a blank category, the one that jumps out the most is sex with a person under 16 years. We do have incest cases, we do have cases of rape and so on, but this one is the leading one. However, the problem with incest, though, is that in many of the communities, we are not getting the information in terms of concrete evidential material that can lead to systems of accountability chipping in to hold these persons responsible for their actions,” she said.
Topics relating to sexual abuse of children have resurfaced following the social media firestorm caused by news that a 14-year-old gave birth to twins on Christmas Day.
Head of the Centre for Investigations of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, Superintendent Maldria Jones-Williams, confirmed that there was an active investigation in the matter after it was reported to the police on October 11.
Gordon Harrison reasoned that the public shock was a result of a socially detached society.
“I think this story has kind of put front and centre a longstanding issue. Jamaica, unfortunately, has always been one of those countries in the Caribbean region that has had a persistent teenage pregnancy reality, and so we have had, routinely every year, children who are below the age of consent becoming pregnant and some of them carrying those babies to term and giving birth,” she said.
Gordon Harrison also chastised persons on social media for downplaying the issue by saying teenage pregnancy was not a new phenomenon in Jamaica.
“I think those are irresponsible comments. Comments like those cause even greater concern because what it tells me is that there are members of our society who don’t even begin to understand the nature of the social ills that affect us,” she said. “Imagine for a moment, you have a 14-year-old girl, she has not yet understood life herself. She is not fully formed and settled in terms of her own views as a person. Her level of maturity and ability to contribute to her own well-being is not yet at a stage where you can say ‘Yes man, she is gonna be alright’.”
She added, “She has no income earning ability and she has not completed her education. And so what that means is that if there isn’t serious intervention, she could be on a path where she will have her education end at age 14. When she is 36, if there is no intervention to get her back into school or in some skills programme, what kind of job will she be able to hold down at 36 with a 14-year-old education? And how would she adequately provide and care for her two children that she has, if she hasn’t added anymore by time she is 36?”