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Domestic violence/child neglect both sides of a worn coin

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On all too numerous occasions, the Vincentian society, our women in particular, has reacted in traumatised horror at the news of the murder or brutalisation of women in some situation of domestic violence. There have even been demonstrations and calls for drastic action to protect our sisters. Sadly, as the drama fades with time, so does the stridency of the demands- until another horror story emerges.{{more}}

We have just had another two. There was the murder in Greiggs of a young woman by her alleged lover, together with the injuring of a female friend of hers. Then, in a detestable record-breaking style, a man in his forties had approximately 160 charges of incest, rape and carnal knowledge slapped on him, for a four-year orgy against his four daughters. Sickeningly, one of the sons of the accused was also hit with four charges of a similar nature.

Predictably, there have been public outcries and condemnation, including a statement by Minister with responsibility for Gender Affairs Frederick Stephenson. Local women’s organisations have made their voices heard, as expected. This comes in the wake of revelations that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one of the countries with the highest number of reported sex offences, not just in the Caribbean, but in the entire world. A recent study, conducted for the Organization of American States by St. Lucian Ms. Yasmin Odlum, put our rate of such offences per every 100,000 persons as 112, while the global average is 15. In addition, during the first decade of this millennium, there were 857 recorded cases of alleged sexual assault, rape or incest in SVG, 55 against innocent minors.

So, there is every reason to be concerned and to call out for strong action against offenders, as well as measures to ensure the greater safety of women. This is not just a “women’s issue”; it is a fundamental one of human rights, dignity and public morality. Too many of us men stay on the sidelines, unless our very own are involved. Only then are we prepared to kill. In fact, we are prone to blame the victims, as in the current infamous example of the African migrant maid trying to press rape and sexual assault charges against a ‘big-boy’, the former Head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is her character, not his actions, which is coming under scrutiny.

The other problem is the lack of unity on a common platform in the local women’s movement. If ever there was a reason for all women and their respective organisations to stand on common ground, sexual violence, assault, rape and incest provide the most common denominator. Strengthening of laws, their enforcement, appropriate training of law enforcement officers etc. are not going to come from knee-jerk reactions to brutal incidents. We must be persistent, consistent and committed to widening the base of support to include men as well.

At the same time, there is need to face up to and confront those female failings in our midst, often seized upon as excuses for deviant behaviour on the part of males. Just as we were grappling with domestic violence against women for instance, a different horror story emerged, which resulted in the ghastly death by fire of a five-month-old child. The incident seems to be a classic case of child neglect, a factor all too common among young mothers. It is not the first time that such an incident has occurred, children being left to fend for their defenceless selves while mothers ‘take-off’.

Whatever the circumstances, mothers and those responsible for the care of the young have a sacred responsibility to provide the care and security necessary to guarantee the safety of the child. It is accepted internationally that physical neglect of a child “..includes child abandonment, inadequate supervision… and failure to provide for the child’s safety and physical and emotional needs”.

Just as we abhor cases of domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse, we must be equally strong in insisting that those, particularly young mothers, charged with responsibility for care of the young, live up to those responsibilities. The practice of abandoning children for long periods, unsupervised, is taking a tragic toll, not only on these children, but by extension on the society as a whole. It represents the flip side of that worn coin of domestic violence against women. That coin is long outdated and needs to be re-minted.

The twin ills of domestic violence and child neglect need to be confronted by us all.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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