June 23, 2006

Stiffer laws needed to protect children

We add our voice to that of paediatrician Dr. Bharati Datta in calling for stiffer and more effective laws to be put in place to protect our children.

Last week’s Searchlight carried a story in which Dr. Datta gave specific examples of children she had encountered as a physician who were clearly victims of sexual abuse.

The cases in and of themselves were horrific, but what adds to Dr. Datta’s frustration and to ours, is the fact that very little can be done to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice, without the cooperation of the child’s parent or guardian, even when there is overwhelming evidence that abuse has taken place.{{more}}

What better evidence do we need of sexual abuse than when a five-year-old turns up with gonorrhea, or when a 12-year-old girl gets pregnant? Legislation should be put in place to make reporting of such cases mandatory. Parents should themselves be charged if they attempt to pervert the course of justice.

When amending our legislation, we also need to consider making the penalty for such crimes mandatory, lengthy jail sentences, not only for the actual perpetrator of the crime, but the enablers as well. We must send a message to child sexual abusers that they will not get away.

We must ensure that our Family Services Division has the resources it needs to provide the type of intervention that may be needed to prevent or stop abuse when at-risk children are identified. Our police, too, should be specially trained to make them more effective in investigating these matters.

Last week’s story, when juxtaposed with this week’s news of the hundreds of boys and girls who were successful in their common entrance exams, becomes doubly sad. Our eleven and twelve-year-olds should, with all the opportunities being made available to them, be excitedly dreaming of a future filled with hope and possibility. They should not be having to grapple with all the negative consequences of childhood sexual abuse. Imagine the burden placed upon those 237 girls under the age of 15, who, between 2000 and 2005 became mothers. Imagine their bewilderment and despair. Besides the physical and emotional trauma associated with the actual rape, these children who are in desperate need of guidance themselves, are now left with the responsibility of nurturing, guiding and providing for another human being.

We are also aware of the existence of HIV positive children (both boys and girls) in our country who were not infected at birth, but rather as a result of sexual abuse. Shouldn’t their abusers be charged with attempted murder?

It is our responsibility as a society to protect our most vulnerable and most precious resource, our children. Let us do the right thing.