Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network – speaking out on children’s rights

As an “older person,” I always believe we should listen to our young people. Whatever they are talking about, whether it’s the environment, LBGT rights, governance issues, and more, it is important to listen to their voices. Not in a patronizing way… Really listen! We can learn so much from each other, across generations. Moreover, we should go farther than that: we should engage in conversations, we should talk to each other.

This may sound like a cliché to you, but let me give you a very recent example of what in my younger years we used to call the “generation gap.” Full disclosure – from my high and mighty, privileged, older person’s perspective, I confess I was horrified by, and strongly disapproved of a recent gesture made by a winning athlete at “Champs” last weekend. It was disturbing to me. However, as something of a firestorm started on Twitter, I learned that pointing one’s finger in the air, as if firing a gun, when one has achieved something, is a very common gesture among young people, and has been for some time. Although I still don’t like it, at least I was informed and realized that over reaction doesn’t help. The young man has apologized since then and I am sure he will realize it’s not appropriate, and unprofessional too. So, lesson learned, for me and for him.

But I digress. What I would like to see is young Jamaicans not just talking to each other at “youth forums” – useful as these may be for networking and sharing ideas. I am not a big fan of the “Youth Parliament” which pops up every now and again either – where young people make speeches at each other, aping the posture and mannerisms of older politicians. It seems so forced and unnatural.

Putting all that aside, I would like to see youth (by which I suppose I mean ages 15 to 30 years old) not just sitting down with each other, but with “grown ups” too. On public and private sector boards, at committee meetings, at consultations. That’s all. A seat at the table. A voice that will be considered and taken into account.

So the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) have put out two interesting statements recently, which I wanted to share with you. The first, dated May 14, gender-based violence – beginning with the latest horrific example – and the tone of local media coverage, which is continually found wanting. The second is on the recent anniversary of the tragic fire at Armadale. I will post that separately.

JYAN renews calls for more to be done to protect women and girls 

The Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) notes with deep sadness and concern the gruesome murder of Danesha Cooper, a 14-year-old girl, on Monday, May 10th, allegedly by a 21-year-old man who, according to media reports, was her abuser and stalker. We extend our most sincere condolences to Danesha’s family and friends.

JYAN is immensely concerned with the alarming frequency at which our women and girls are being taken from us due to the epidemic of gender-based violence (GBV) in Jamaica. Danesha Cooper is, unfortunately, another addition to a long list of young girls and women who are being killed, raped or reported missing.

Danesha Cooper (Photo contributed to the Jamaica Gleaner).

We acknowledge, with increasing concern, the manner in which media outlets are reporting incidents of gruesome acts committed against women and girls. The Jamaica Gleaner, on May 11th, reported that Danesha Cooper was murdered by her “lover”. In no advanced, 21st century society should a 14-year-old and a 21-year-old be considered or referred to as “lovers”. We at JYAN are fearful that this type of wording is indicative of the unfortunate cavalier approach towards cases of violence against women and girls from various levels of society.

The Gleaner, presumed to have a qualified, socially aware complement of staff, should be keen to not perpetuate narratives that children under the age of 16, under any circumstance, can consent to any form of romantic or sexual engagement with adults. Need they be reminded of the Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists, to which they are expected to comply, that states under Section 7 (b)— “The media should take care to avoid sensational reporting of violent crime.”

Persistent Failure of the State to Protect Women and Girls

In 1991, Jamaica signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). We are therefore bound by its provisions; Article 34 reads, “States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.” To strengthen this principle, we call on the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, and Parliament by extension, to convene the review of the Sexual Offences Act, with alacrity. Jamaica, as a growing democracy, should take care to define conditions of statutory rape in our domestic legislative framework. We call on Parliament to incorporate explicit provisions for statutory rape, and the seriousness of same, into the Sexual Offences Act.

Far too often we see and grieve cases of this nature—where our women and girls are exploited, abused, and murdered at the hands of men who are in positions of trust and authority. In many instances, these cases are widely known within communities, but no reports are made, owing to a cultural rhetoric of “see and blind, hear and deaf”. To address this, we recommend that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, through the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), initiate a more robust campaign towards identifying and reporting cases of sexual abuse, especially in rural communities. This should be coupled with the expansion and strengthening of partnerships with community and civil society groups working to protect women and girls. It is also crucial that the government allocate the necessary resources at all levels to ensure that agencies tasked with the care and protection of our children are well funded, and sufficiently staffed to ensure they are able to operate at an optimal standard.

We recognise that there have been multiple instances where matters are brought to the attention of security forces, and gaps in the system cause those in authority to fall short in their duties to take swift and appropriate action. This may very well be credited to the sometimes nonchalant approach taken by some members of law enforcement when such cases are reported, inadequate resources, insufficient training to deal with the nuances of gender-based violence and societal beliefs that view women and girls, and their rights, as less than.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force, chief among the organizations entrusted to protect and defend us, must be more responsive with regard to reports of sexual abuse of minors, and cases of violence against any man, woman or child in general. It is an established best practice in some countries that police forces have a duty to respond to all reports of domestic and other forms of gender-based violence, and are tasked with taking all reasonable measures to protect whomever is being abused, and to subsequently complete a thorough report. JYAN recommends that a similar procedure needs to be applied in Jamaica, in law and in practice.

Jamaica, as an advancing civilised society, must do better in creating an environment where our children are cared for and protected. It indeed takes a village, and the village includes all of us—from government heads to police forces to a next-door neighbour. We must do better for our children as we move towards our Vision 2030. 

Contact: Shannique Bowden – Programme Coordinator, Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) advocacy@youthadvocateja.org | 876-437-1714 


2 thoughts on “Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network – speaking out on children’s rights

  1. A very serious topic well done, Emma. And you are right – no fourteen year old should have a 21 year old lover. There needs to be a great public re-education programme.

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    1. It’s just all wrong on so many levels, and the media house concerned needs to take a long, hard look at the way in which they describe these stories. Many Jamaican journalists have had good (mostly free) training on responsible, sensitive reporting on these matters, over the years. They ought to know better by now.

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