Child Abuse Cannot Go Silent
Over the last few years, Barbadians had a bellyful of situations where children were abused in their homes, in schools and in the public domain. They were preyed on for sex, beaten for mistakes, starved by parents, ridiculed in schools and even expelled.
It is customary for a public uproar after hearing of an incident regarding a child. That is accompanied by lengthy discussions on social media platforms, which are tainted with lewd comments adding pain to a hurting child, curse the parents and help no one.
A hush then follows but the children continue to be neglected, abandoned, physically, sexually, verbally and emotionally abused and child abuse goes silent. We have seen the failure to protect and defend our children by the child authorities on the island which has resulted in the death of at least two children in recent years.
The suicide of a 12-year old child, whose abusive situation was known to authorities and whose death, the result of years of abuse has slipped into the past as though he never mattered. The death of a six-year old, who was also known to the authorities who did not bother to protect him from a home of abuse left many in disbelief. Three children abused and neglected by parents and a step father, whose situation was again known to the authorities and who were eventually ‘rescued’ from the 'home of horrors' by the absent father who returned like Santa Claus to take his children.
Young girls raped from as young as 8 or 9 years of age and in some cases younger and because parents do not know how to deal with such situations, the girls are cautioned to keep the issue a secret or made to feel that they were the culprits. The pain and anger that these girls live with, especially in small societies where they usually see the perpetrator, eventually reveals itself in deviant behaviour. Very often some of these girls wander off or get involved in squabbles that land them before the court where, without the legal representation that they should have as minors, the girls might find themselves in the 'frightening Girls Industrial School’, where for three years their lives plummet to an all time low before they return to their homes where the struggle to survive continues.
Sadly, children are not free of abuse in our schools, a shadowy issue that most prefer to leave untouched least the teaching fraternity is offended although the issue has resulted in several cases of injustices to children.
Just last week, the flogging of a five-year-old child in the reception class at a St. Michael primary school was brought to my attention. The child received a severe flogging when she was seen ‘erasing too much’ while trying to write her name.
In that same school the mother of a four-year-old boy, who apparently has not found favour with his teachers, is frustrated by the arrogance and condescending attitudes of a principal and a senior teacher, who both seem oblivious of good communication and effective leadership. A third parent is watching the situation as her brilliant five-year-old daughter has to conform to the level of the class that is below her standard, because she is the age for that class and the school does no evaluation to ensure that all children can learn at the level at which they are capable of handling.
Just last year, an-eight-year old boy was severely beaten when his teacher did not hear him say ‘good morning’. An angry parent showed me the swollen and bruised back of this academically strong and disciplined young man who was in pain from the onslaught on his body. Soon after that at the same school, a petite, 50 pound seven-year-old girl, who accidentally stepped on the shoes of her six foot, 200-pound male teacher while reaching for her bag, also felt the wrath of that teacher who would later claim that she caused him an injury.
Not one of the above beatings had anything to do with deviant behaviour, rudeness or disrespect by the students involved, but it all had to do with teachers who are abusing their authority to bully children.
Teacher bullying, which is child abuse, was seen in the case of a 15-year-old school girl who refused to pick up the garbage of another student when the teacher, shouted at her to do so. This simple matter turned sour when an obviously imprudent principal took the opportunity to further abuse the child and eventually expelled her and walked her to the gate while telling her to take off her uniform.
Months later another female student around the same age was subjected to public disgrace when a teacher falsely reported that girl kicked and spat on her. While the incident never happened and it was in fact the teacher who was the aggressor, the child who was eventually expelled from the school also became a punching bag for a clueless and mean media audience. None however was so disgraceful as to see the teaching fraternity once again, ganging up to deny a child her rights while protecting the ills of an adult.
At the end of last term, another parent called on me to help her with the situation at her daughter’s school where the child was the target of abuse from another year head. An honour student who is known to be a well focused and disciplined child was subjected to harassment by this year head about ‘an apparent short uniform’.
When the parent spoke to the principal, who seemed too weak to properly address the situation, he made light of the situation. The year head then had her way and removed the child from the debating team and disallowed her from taking her prizes at the school’s prize giving last term. On return to school this term, despite a letter submitted to the principal that asked for the child to be able to attend school without harassment, the year head did not heed the appeal. She sent the child to the office for the ‘apparent short uniform’, but when the principal and other teachers chorused that nothing was wrong with the uniform and the year head was asked to come to the office to discuss the matter, she refused.
When a 16- year old told me about the English teacher who called them ‘stinking children’, I was not at all surprised, nor was I surprised when the same child showed me another teacher on face book in an advertisement for a ‘bashment event’, wearing all that we tell our girls not to wear.
Child abuse in schools is also seen in the promotion of children from one form to the next without mastering the skills required for working at a higher level. This is done to the detriment of the child who is usually promoted out of school, sometimes without even able to read well. There is also the situation where some schools are not properly preparing children for exams and many children must seek outside help to complete a syllabus and even though they do this, the teachers are not submitting their names for the exams. Too many children have to resort to paying to take exams outside of school, and this is a ridiculous situation and the denial of children their right to a quality education.
I have spoken several times about the quality of teachers now teaching our children and I have been labelled as having a problem with teachers.
I have sent one biological child through primary and secondary school and I have seen some great teachers and over the years, I have expressed my gratitude to them. I know that we have some teachers that are highly professional and that go all out to help children, however, I admit, I do have a problem with some teachers and those are the ones that I want to see out of the class rooms.
The above examples of teacher bullying is wider than we think and I would always push for a highly professional teacher with sound morals and discipline to be standing in front of children, so that the impact they have on children is positive and in the child’s best interest. I am appalled at knowing that they are teachers whose ‘thud like, ghetto associations’ are openly known to their students and these teachers are sending the wrong messages to fragile minds.
If we are to curb child abuse, we as a people must emerge from the safety of our homes and offices and fight for our children. It makes no sense making a big fuss when a child dies from abuse or when a 16-year-old frustrated and angry young man commits a murder or when a child is accused of not picking up garbage or kicking and spitting on a teacher, when we allow child abusers to escape punishment.
Complaining about a broken juvenile justice system, injustices in schools and poor parenting makes no sense, while refusing to stand up and speak out and take the risk to raise a better child, better schools, better homes and safer communities.
We cannot allow ourselves to live in fear of those that operate on bullying tactics. No one can bully us unless we allow it and the way to stop the abuse of every child in Barbados is for us to unite and over power the minority that create a life of fear for our youth.
We need a zero tolerance attitude towards abusive parents and care takers of our children, teacher bullying, and denial of justice for our children and we must strive to create a society of peace and kindness in which our children can play, learn and grow.
Many children in Barbados enjoy settled lives where they attend schools that cater to their academic needs and they are well protected by well educated and indulgent parents. This has to be a must for all children so that they can all have a fair competitive chance at life.