On Tuesday, November 25, the UN Country Team in Jamaica hosted a High-Level Breakfast in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women at Kingston’s Terra Nova Hotel. The event also presented to Jamaica the amazing work of Eve for Life, a Jamaican non-governmental organization working with young mothers (most living with HIV and AIDS). Eve’s “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign urges Jamaicans at all levels of society to speak out against the sexual abuse of our girls.
I am publishing below a speech by Eve’s Executive Director, Patricia Watson. If nothing else, I would like you to read the beginning of her speech (in bold) and absorb this information, which should be of the greatest concern to us all. Play your part! Be aware, protect our girls and report all forms of child abuse to the Office of the Children’s Registry (which is very supportive of Eve for Life, as is UNICEF Jamaica. A great partnership!)
Please also watch and share a short, very moving video created by UNICEF, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4OsaQuiyCw&feature=youtu.be
Why We Are Here
If you remember nothing else from today – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 2014 – then I would like you to remember two things about why we are here:
We are here because for the past 20 years, here in Jamaica land we love, 20 per cent of girls and women consistently report that they have been forced to have sex. This means that ONE IN EVERY FIVE WOMEN IN JAMAICA has reported being raped or has had their bodies violated against their will as corroborated by the National Sexual and Reproductive Health Surveys.
We are here today because these same surveys, confirm that it is our adolescent girls who are most frequently the victims of this forced sex, this rape, this abuse, this sexual violation.
Another study done in 2007/2008 by Family Health International highlighted that 34 percent of adolescent girls surveyed reported that their first sexual encounter was coerced – that is their first exposure to sexual activity was an act of RAPE.
These official statistics do not exist in a vacuum. They are supported by reports coming from official agencies such as the Jamaica Constabulary Force (Police), and the Office of the Children’s Registry; and from other research done on the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls in Jamaica. The evidence also comes from civil society organisations like EVE for Life, which see and deal with the trauma of these young girls referred to us for services first -hand.
Here is a real picture of what these statistics really mean for us as a country.
We are here because of young girls like Ashley* – one of the participants in Eve for Life’s programme for adolescent survivors of sexual violence. Ashley was raped – first as a grade six primary school student and continuously for the next three years. She was abused, beaten, slapped and burnt when she resisted the sexual assault by her uncle, her father’s brother who lived in the same house she did.
Ashley’s grandmother, the other adult in the house, did nothing about the almost nightly sexual abuse of the young girl – even when her granddaughter told her about it. She branded Ashley a liar and threatened to throw her out of the house. Ashley’s father heard rumours of the abuse and asked his mother about it. He accepted her denial without hesitation.
Community members in Ashley’s district knew of the abuse and did nothing, and openly blamed her for her uncle’s actions.
It took another child – Ashley’s primary school friend – to report the abuse to Ashley’s guidance counsellor, who reported the case to the Child Development Agency (CDA). Ashley’s case worker moved to another parish. Ashley stopped attending court. She fell through a system which clearly was full of enough large cracks to swallow a small girl child without any trace. The abuser continues to live in the same community.
The abuse stopped only when fifteen-year-old Ashley – with no support, no assistance, no money – fled the abuse to seek refuge with a grandaunt. The physical and emotional impact of the abuse on Ashley has not ended.
We are here because there are hundreds of Ashleys in Jamaica to whom this abuse, and even worse, is happening EVERY SINGLE DAY. And it is happening because WE ALL allow it to happen. We allow it to happen to one in five Jamaican girls and women!
How Did We Get Here?
We need to ask ourselves how we got here – as individuals, as family and community members, as duty bearers, legislators, decision makers and policy makers, as Jamaicans?
How did we get to the stage where the sexual abuse of a young girl has become almost normalised in our culture? Where the girl child is regarded as a commodity, a sexual object for any man’s gratification?
Why do those mothers and fathers who “put out” their girl children to men for money, or those stepfathers/fathers/uncles/brothers raping girl children in their families, feel that they can act with impunity, despite the laws on the books?
Why do we reserve our scorn and contempt for young girls engaged in sex for money, for food, for school fees and uniforms, for phone cards or for bling, with older men – the sugar daddy, the “big man” – and somehow heap far less condemnation and even less ACTION on these men who are having sex with underage girls, using their relative positions of power and resources to buy sexual services from girl children often young enough to be their daughters or even granddaughters?
Why do we continue to talk about cleaning up Back Road by removing girls on the strip, but somehow focus less on those “business persons” who take underage girls from across the island and put them to dance on stage in night clubs, or act as their pimps or clients when they sell their bodies on Back Road or other roads and lanes or in massage parlors?
How did we get to the state where the response to persons having sex with underage girls is to call for moving the age of consent to eighteen? Are we sure this will prevent sexual abuse of minors, the continued sexual abuse of the girl child? Did the laws speaking to the age of consent stop Ashley’s uncle from raping his twelve-year-old niece?
Who is monitoring? Who is accountable to ensure that children like Ashley achieve their fullest potential and help Jamaica to reach its vision to be the place of choice, to live, raise families and do business?
Nuh Guh Deh! Campaign
On October 11, 2014, EVE for Life officially launched the “Nuh Guh Deh!” National Campaign to End Sex with the Girl Child’. It is our response to try to curb the number of pregnant and HIV positive girls as young as thirteen years, who are referred to our programmes. The overarching goal is to contribute to reducing the incidents of sexual abuse of the girl child in Jamaica. The key outcomes sought by the campaign are:
- Increased awareness about the long term physical, emotional, health, financial and social consequences of sexual abuse of young girls and the links to HIV.
- Jamaicans mobilised to report acts of sexual violence against the girl child
- Jamaicans are using the phrase “Nuh Guh Deh!” to challenge current behaviours of men who sexually exploit the girl child.
EVE for Life utilised an approach to campaign management that maximized the participation and ownership by girls and young women who are survivors of sexual abuse in the planning, development, and implementation of the initiative. It is their stories around which the campaign revolves including Ashley who found solace in expressing the pain of her abuse in several diaries she began compiling at age thirteen.
The stories highlight serious issues facing young girls in communities across Jamaica. Incest, rape, physical violence, silence of parents around sexual abuse, lack of parenting skills, lack of life skills, HIV and stigma and discrimination are highlighted.
Over the one-year period the campaign will be implemented at three specific levels: Community level including service clubs, youth clubs, citizens association; Social Services level including schools and health facilities and the socio-political level inclusive of media and political leaders. It is hoped that various groups and civic organisations, service clubs, churches, private sector organisations will own the “Nuh Guh Deh” movement and add it to their brands.
CALL TO ACTION
EVE for Life recognises that there is an array of legislation which should serve to protect our children from sexual abuse: the Sexual Offences Act, the Child Care and Protection Act, the Trafficking in Persons Act, the Child Pornography (Prevention) Act, among others. Jamaica also has a number of government organisations and systems to protect children against all forms of abuse, including the Office of the Children’s Registry, the Office of the Children’s Advocate, the Child Development Agency and the Ananda Alert.
Today, as we observe International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we must acknowledge that as a country we have allowed ourselves for too long to “guh deh.”
We “guh deh” – when we allow adults among us to rape and exploit some of our youngest and most vulnerable members with impunity. When the law does not seem to have enough teeth or support and the system does not have enough resources to follow through on cases like Ashley’s.
We “guh deh” – When our economic reality pushes some young girls into transactional sex, to the extent that many of these girls are grown and groomed to believe that their worth is in dollars and cents and their sole value is what is between their legs.
We “guh deh” – If we fail to ensure that agencies like the Women’s Centre – the Sole state institution that provides coordinated and integrated services including counselling and continued education to girl children who find themselves pregnant and out of school – does not get the support and strengthening needed to cater to the physical and psychosocial needs of these girls.
We each have a duty to ensure that Ashley’s story is not repeated. We have to take action to pull our country back from this horrifying practice of raping and abusing our girl children by ensuring:
- That laws not only exist, but are relevant, are enforced and that enforcement is supported by adequate resources;
- That policy, legislative and programme responses to the crimes of rape and child sexual abuse are informed by research on what exists on the ground and take into account pervasive attitudes, values and cultures;
- That our justice, law enforcement, education, social security and health institutions are equipped to serve the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society in the face of rampant sexual abuse of our girls;
- That our airwaves and screens are free from words and images that perpetuate misogyny, the sexualisation of the girl child and abuse in all forms;
- That we encourage a culture in our communities where citizens are able to recognise the evil of child sexual abuse and speak out against and report it and create protective environments for the girl child;
- That we provide funding for psychosocial support for young girls who have been sexually abused including counselling, support groups and alternative housing;
- That we provide financial support to organisations that work with women and girls who experience sexual violence.
Ladies and Gentlemen: In October, Eve for Life encouraged civil society to Speak, Shout, Rescue, Report, Ask, Help, Guide, Counsel, Encourage, Take Action – Nuh Guh Deh!
We now encourage you – as policy and decision makers and legislators – to also speak out. Speak out – in Parliament, in the Senate, in your various positions in public life – to actively support policies and agencies which can protect the girl child from sexual abuse; which ensure perpetrators of child sexual abuse are dealt with under the law; which encourage and support duty bearers and caregivers to report sexual abuse of our children; and which prevent the spewing of hate and sexual violence against our girl children and women under the guise of freedom of speech and cultural/creative expression.
And in the corridors of power, the constituencies, divisions, Ministries, agencies and communities where you work, let everyone you meet know your position: Let those who would seek to have sex with our young girls know – Nuh Guh DEH!
* Ashley is not her real name. If you would like to help, please consider a contribution to Eve for Life’s ASHLEY FUND, which focuses on three core activities for its Survivors Group (ROAR): support to young women to continue education/learn a skill/income generating projects and/or assistance to move out of abusive situations; support group sessions for survivors of sexual and physical abuse; and a communication and public awareness campaign to draw attention to the problem and motivate changes in harmful gender norms and behaviors.
- Make a donation to the Ashley Fund: Scotiabank Financial Centre, 132 Constant Spring Road, Kingston 8. Account Number 21725-45560. You also make cheques out to Eve for Life (7 Keesing Avenue, Kingston 10).
- Contact Eve: 332-5433; Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call the Office of the Children’s Registry: (toll free) 1-888-PROTECT (776-8328); fax: 908-2579; Email: email@example.com