St. Lucians Urged: “Raise Your Voice” Tomorrow.
A NUMBER of incidents of abuse against women and children in Saint Lucia in recent weeks have prompted a march tomorrow, with organizers urging the public to join in and raise their voices in protest.
Raise Your VOICE Saint Lucia, a group that advocates for the rights of children and women is calling on the government to draft and enact model Family Law Bills by July of next year, even as the number of reports of abuse of children and women continues to grow.
The problem of abuse of the children has irked the police force, the Department of Human Services, The Ministry responsible for Gender Relations and Family Affairs and other authoritative bodies to the extent that they all are speaking out against it.
Acting Police Commissioner Errol Alexander said that the Police Force will leave no stone unturned in its efforts to bring perpetrators of child abuse to justice.
And just last week, Elizabeth Lewis, Director of Human Services said that the greatest hindrance to investigating such cases is the cloak of silence that hangs over them because of the identities of the perpetrators, meaning that they are known to the children therefore the children are cajoled, sweet-talked and persuaded to remain silent and not speak up to identify the abusers.
Both Lewis and Alexander have alluded to the enormity of the problem of child abuse and neglect on the island. To compound matters, the courts are flooded with such cases and unable to deal with them swiftly, according to both the Human Services Department and Raise Your VOICE Saint Lucia.
Tomorrow’s march against violence against women and children will be held mainly to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
“You cannot leave children out of the equation whenever you’re marching against violence, be it against women,” Catherine Sealy, Secretary to Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia said yesterday.
“Sexual abuse of children, both boys and girls, is an enormous problem in the country and the authorities are going about handling this problem badly,” Sealy said.
She is calling on Saint Lucians to raise their voices against domestic violence, rape, physical and sexual abuse of women and minors and to advocate for change in the system of governance specifically in the social, judicial and public systems that affect women and children.
In the past five weeks there have been a number of cases of violent abuse of women and children and in many cases, the victims have died. St Lucians have taken to the media to demand that firm action be taken against the perpetrators.
The most heinous of these crimes were the rape of a 97 year old woman at Mon-Repos, Micoud, and the rape of two teenage girls at Reduit, one of whom had to be hospitalized. Investigations into these case are ongoing but not at the pace the rest of the country would like because of the non-functioning forensic lab at Tapion.
Reports of the sexual abuse of a 10 year old boy by a 44 year old man in Babonneau and that of an eight year-old girl by her stepfather in Ciceron last week are among the latest reported incidents of sexual abuse of children.
Sealy is outraged at what she says is the improper way police handle sexual cases that result in cases being dismissed or being piled up in court.
“The police are not doing their jobs properly. The courts are not working. We have a woman who was raped five years ago still walking up and down looking for justice. The Vulnerable Persons Team of the Police Force which is responsible for investigating crimes of a sexual nature should have overall oversight by the police but should not be manned by them. That unit should be manned by social workers, psychologists etc.,” Sealy said.
Tomorrow’s march, which is the group’s first major activity will be different to other marches seen in Saint Lucia in the past because, according to Sealy, it will be used to create public awareness for the work the group has ahead of it and in advocating for a safer environment where children and women can grow and achieve their full potential.
“A declaration will be read at the Derek Walcott Square where the march will end after it starts from Serenity Park at 2:00 p.m.,” Sealy said.
The declaration notes that discrimination and violence against women and children remain persistent and widespread with discrimination against women rooted in law and practice. And that policy makers have failed to adopt legislation and policies to protect women and children from violence and discrimination, and that where such laws exist, violations often go unpunished and impunity prevails. further adding that insufficient efforts are made to raise awareness on women and children’s rights.
The rest of the Declaration reads as follows:
“Recognising the need to mobilize all civil society and human rights organisations to work together to combat discrimination and violence against women and children, we reiterate that government has the primary responsibility to ensure respect for women and children’s rights and that the elimination of discrimination and violence against women and children is above all, a matter of political will;
“We call upon our legislators to take all necessary measures to ensure respect for women’s and children’s rights, in particular to: ratify without reservations the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Optional Protocol to CEDAW to fully implement into law the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“We call upon the general public, every Saint Lucian to protect women and children, to ensure that women and children’s rights are upheld in every community and every home. We call upon the government to draft and enact the model Family Law Bills, which are long outstanding and were intended to be introduced in all the OECS with Saint Lucia as the pilot state and to build the capacity of the justice system including the Police, the office of the Director of Public Prosecution and the courts to solve crime; to establish a permanent Hall of Justice; to recommission the Forensic Laboratory and to establish a shelter for victims of sexual assault.”