Recently, my Cabinet Chief of Staff, Peter J. Gittens, brought to my attention that there is an outpouring of reports of child abuse, molestation and paedophilia on social media from members of our community. These activities are reprehensible and must be taken seriously.
Just two months ago, as the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, I signed the Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of Sint Maarten to declare our commitment as a country to promoting, protecting and defending the International Convention on the Rights of The Child.
It is every child’s right to be free and safe from harm of any form. No girl nor boy should have to endure the advances of sexual predators in the home, school or community. In my years of pastoral care and as an educator, I have heard too many cries of persons who suffered these atrocities at a young age and all too often, from the hand of a trusted adult. The damage is significant and can set in motion a very hurtful cycle where the victim becomes a perpetrator.
You have heard me say before, it takes a village to raise a child, and I reiterate it now because as a community, we must DO something about this social cancer. There are some persons who question the children’s role in the abusive relationships, but there is only one way to answer that. It is the adult’s duty to protect the child from harm – even from bringing harm to him or herself. Adults, let us DO THE RIGHT THING.
As the Ministry with responsibility for Youth, we have been offering continuous support to hurting children and families through the Student Support Services Division (SSSD) and promoting the International Rights of the Child through the Department of Youth Affairs. Also, the Youth Desk was established a few years ago with the mission to facilitate our young people in handling matters and receiving information that pertain to them. These include laws and policies geared towards youth. The Youth Desk was closed with the passing of Hurricane Irma, pending re-location. In working with the Department of Youth Affairs, I will commit to the re-opening of this Youth Desk. This will be another avenue for young persons to reach out for assistance with abusive situations.
I am calling on the House of Parliament to review the penal code concerning crimes committed against our children. The gravity of the damage these paedophiles inflict on their victims should be reflected in the consequences meted out in our judicial system. I will also be sitting with key persons in the ministry of Education to review and present policy from our end as well.
I am appealing to my colleague, the Minister of Justice to provide the support needed in the Police Force, particularly the departments responsible for investigating crimes against juveniles and the Court of Guardianship, as they are critical to bringing social relief, care and justice to the abused children and their families.
I am asking that all caring, well-meaning adults, parents, teachers, counsellors, social workers, and trustworthy neighbours, to listen to our children when they report that some wrong has befallen them. Pay attention to signs that the child does not feel safe around that person. You may be the one to rescue that child from a traumatic situation. Listen to their outcry and report it to the authorities.
I am encouraging all children who have had the unfortunate experience of being touched in inappropriate ways, or told to keep secrets about what has been done or asked of them concerning their private body parts, to tell it to your parent or family member, a teacher or school counsellor, a trusted adult or the police. Whether it was done by an adult or another child, no one is allowed to hurt our boys and girls.
It is time for us to take a stand. Soualuiga, we must protect our young ones. Allow righteous salt to clean this wound that has been festering for too long. Let us unite and focus on doing the right thing for our children and our future.
Honourable Wycliffe Smith, MA, M.Ed.
Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport