by Dr Augustine Panchoo
I sat in Family Court speechless, and by the time I understood what was happening, the magistrate was pronouncing her verdict.
$1,500 to be paid to the courts and $600 for counselling services for the survivor. That was the court’s conclusion to an adult for forcing a 5-year boy to play with a suck-his-penis. Now, I am not talking about a verdict for stealing two coconuts. I am talking about the sexual assault of a child. I cringe to think about the lifelong effects that this traumatic experience will have on this child (another article to follow).
Almost 30 years ago (20 November 1989) the United Nations ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child of which Grenada is a signatory. The CRC is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. The Convention defines a child as any human being under the age of 18, unless the age of majority is attained earlier under national legislation.
As we get ready to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this treaty, a reflection of what we as a nation have done to protect and secure our children must be part of our discussion. Who were the voices for this little child? I must applaud the mother for believing her son and having the courage to file a police report. She was in court. Timid and tearful with little to say since the opportunity was not afforded her to do so.
Where were the voices of CPA (Child Protection Agency), the National Coalition on the Rights of the Child, the Ministry of Legal Affairs, the Ministry of Social Service, the Ministry of Health and an outraged community? The perpetrator was represented by an attorney who presented psychological and biosocial reports to justify his client’s actions. Coupled with the old grievous phrases “he cooperated with the police and it was his first offence”, and the absence of legal teeth, the magistrate could only follow the law.
So, I am mad. Mad because for almost 30 years we have given lip service to our responsibility to our children. We need lawmakers and policy advocates to introduce new laws and modify antiquated ones to deal with sexual predators and perpetrators of crime and violence against children. We are obligated to protect our nation’s children. We usually wait for some tragedy to spur us to make promise of change but when the dust settles we return to life as normal. Now, is the time to act.
Sexual assault cases must go to trial. Let a jury decide on the fate of the predator. We need to develop a more comprehensive protocol for dealing with child sexual abuse cases. From the time a report is made an alert must go out to all the agencies so that an all-inclusive plan can be put in place to defend the rights and dignity of our children. A few months ago, a family member was given a fine also for sexual assaulting a 3-year old child from St Mark. The nation was outraged, but life settled back and nothing legally was done or even talked about to remedy the crisis.
So, whenever I hear a Minister on the media talking about crimes against our children while the laws remain the same, I will be mad. Whenever I sit in Family Court and I see how the hands of the magistrates are tied because the laws have not changed, I will be mad. Whenever I see a predator walking the streets without worry to re-offend, I will be mad. To answer the words of Antoine Fisher, “Who will cry for the little boy?” I will cry. I need a few persons to join with me in standing up for our children.