Sun | Jun 16, 2024

Stakeholders unite in Pisgah to combat child abuse and molestation

Published:Saturday | May 25, 2024 | 12:05 AMRochelle Clayton/Staff Reporter
Mona Sue-Ho, senior manager for Social Development at the Jamaica Social Investment Fund.
Mona Sue-Ho, senior manager for Social Development at the Jamaica Social Investment Fund.
Alric Miller, parish manager for the Social Development Commission in St Elizabeth.
Alric Miller, parish manager for the Social Development Commission in St Elizabeth.
Social worker Kaydean Muschette
Social worker Kaydean Muschette
Residents of Pisgah in St Elizabeth waiting to benefit from free health services during the event on Tuesday.
Residents of Pisgah in St Elizabeth waiting to benefit from free health services during the event on Tuesday.
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WESTERN BUREAU:

Calls for an end to incest and sexual offences echoed from the gates of the Pisgah Primary and Infant School on Tuesday as state agencies joined hands to support the community’s children in taking a stand against paedophilia.

Pisgah, a rural farming district in St Elizabeth, has triggered alarm bells as incidents involving molestation of children are becoming “rampant”, according to Patricia Forrester, principal of the Pisgah Primary and Infant School.

Forrester explained that after recognising that the issue was affecting her students, she requested additional support from different stakeholders to host the second annual Child Month community march in the community.

She said that Tuesday’s staging was bigger and better as they also hosted a free community health fair to bring out residents and spread awareness.

Representatives from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and the Social Development Commission (SDC) have supported the effort.

“We had a community awareness march because we are matching against sexual abuse of our children. It is something that is happening in our community. Incest and molestation at different levels is becoming rampant and we see where this is affecting our children academically,” said Forrester.

“In our school improvement plan, it is one of our objectives – to minimise the number of students who are at risk, not only academically, but also socially. So, this morning, we decided to do a march throughout the community to bring some awareness of how this is affecting the children at school and to get them (perpetrators) to stop,” she added.

While noting that incest and molestation have negative implications on the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of children, Forrester told The Gleaner that she has had first-hand experiences with students who have been victims of sexual misconduct. She also added that the perpetrators have often been adults with familial relations to the children.

“We have seen the children start off strong academically and then we realise that they start to regress and then there is a change in behaviour,” she said.

“Since I have been here as a principal, I have had about 14 students who have gone through this trauma – both boys and girls,” Forrester added, noting that she has been head of the rural institution since 2012.

Men not coming forward

Tuesday’s event saw a host of community members showing their support and benefiting from the health services. However, as Forrester noted, the event was mainly supported by women.

“We have mostly the women coming out and standing up against what is going on. The men have been withdrawn. They are not coming forward. They might say that this needs to stop, but they are not coming forward like the women,” she said.

Despite this, Forrester is confident that the organisers “have really sent home the message” that sexual crimes against children are not being tolerated.

“I know that the community has gotten the message clear that this needs to stop. We as teachers are also losing sleep because when they are gone home, we are still wondering what is going on with them. Most times when we get a little break, we are still here because this is the safest place for them,” she said.

In the meantime, social worker Kaydean Muschette, who works with the CPFSA, underscored the importance of community involvement in the fight against all forms of child abuse.

“I hope that each resident will recognise their responsibility to the children that we serve. Even though the child might not be coming from your household, as citizens, we have a bigger commitment to ensure that our children are protected,” Muschette said.

She noted that the 211 emergency number was the easiest way to make a report to the CPFSA.

Muschette said that the agency, too, is aware that the community is “plagued with child abuse”.

Alric Miller, the parish manager for SDC in St Elizabeth, also shared that the issue of incest has come up in various forums in the community.

“We have found that based on the socio-economic data we [collected] in 2023, incest is really an issue the community has been grappling with for some time now,” Miller said. “Specifically, in the wealth-ranking exercise, the issue of incest came out prominently in the discourse among the citizens who were a part of the focus group discussions.”

For her part, Mona Sue-Ho, JSIF’s senior manager for social development, expressed gratitude to the Caribbean Development Bank for funding Tuesday’s event through the Basic Needs Trust Fund Programme.

She also commended the school for hosting the event, which aligns with the ‘Stand Up, Speak Out! Protect the Rights of Our Children’ theme for this year’s observance of Child Month.

rochelle.clayton@gleanerjm.com