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By Professor Opal Palmer Adisa

News Americas, KINGSTON, Jamaica, Weds. May 15, 2019: Recently, I was returning from my daily walk in Mona, when a woman ushered a girl about 9 years old out of the car and told her very firmly to move quickly as she was going to be late for school. With that, the woman drove off.

I was terrified for the girl. It was only the day before that I had read about a little girl who was raped and beaten; and I had heard of a high school student who was in the hospital struggling for her life after being raped and beaten with a pipe, and I wanted this little girl to be safe.

I am sure that fear is clouding the vision of many children as a result of the news about what is happening to their peers. I am sure they are wondering why they are being raped and killed and why they aren’t valued. 

If I were a little girl in Jamaica now, I would be having nightmares. I would be wetting the bed and asking to stay home. I would be thinking of how to run away if someone caught me , so I might not hear my teacher and be accused of not paying attention while at school. My parents might ask me why it is taking me so long to complete my homework and get ready for bed, and I would be wondering if I would be next.

I stood by the side of the road and waited until the girl crossed the street. I called to her, “Have a good day at school.”  She glanced at me, but did not respond. I wanted to shout I love you and you are loved. I lingered until she was inside the school yard. 

Dear Parents:

Make sure your child is safely inside the school or wherever you are dropping them off. Spend that extra time, even if you are running late. Whenever you are leaving your children say you love them. Talk to them about how they might stay safe by walking in groups at all times and staying away from desolate areas. Teach them self-defence skills. Instruct them that if ever they find themselves in trouble to scream at the top of their voices regardless of the person’s threat to be quiet. Guide them how to trust their instincts. Many of us have a gut feeling about persons or situations, but all too often children have been taught to defer to adults, even when they feel they should not trust that adult. Don’t force your child to hug or kiss friends or relatives; respect you child’s right to refuse.

More schools, churches and communities need to engage children in discussions and listen to their concerns and recommendations about how to keep themselves safe. It is our job to keep our children safe, but we can only do so by creating a safe society.  There are a few places in the world where children are not targeted.  We need to examine those societies and the social systems. We need to ask the difficult questions of why men and some women harm children. Each child that is murdered is a potential award-winning writer, a zoologist, an environmentalist, a city planner, or a parent. We need to create a more equal and just society, free of misogyny, blame and hatred.

I am calling on the Jamaica Prime Minister, Commissioner of Police, Minister of Education, dads and moms, teachers and religious leaders, and each and every one of us to protect all our children, to put proper systems in place, to send the definitive message to would-be perpetrators that harming any child in Jamaica will not be tolerated.

This is a state of emergency and the entire society needs to build a wall of protection for all our children, so they feel safe and valued.  We must unearth and correct what is causing these aberrant behaviour. We must heal.

Every morning when returning from my walk, I pause to observe the children, especially those walking alone and I wonder if they feel safe, and are safe.  I affirm safety for all our children!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Professor Opal Palmer Adisa is director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies Regional Headquarters, The University of the West Indies.

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