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Feb 26, 1999

G. Michael Reid on abuse

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With the sexual abuse of children so much in the news these days, G. Michael Reid feels compelled to comment on the issue. He asks that we all do what we can to help children who are being exploited to talk about what is happening to them. He also reminds us that when we refuse to speak out, we are ourselves as guilty of hurting the children as the predators who seek them out.

“Nowhere is the damage from the dishevelment of our society’s moral fiber more pronounced than in the area of child abuse. The first week in March will be observed as Children’s Week and the prime focus of this year’s agenda will be on child abuse. Granted of course, that Belize has come a long ways from the days when we would kneel children on graters or whip them with electric wire and soaked ropes, child abuse in Belize is still a very a large problem.

Studies reveal that throughout the world, at least one out of every four children is abused and in developing countries like ours, the figures move closer to fifty percent. Child abuse is defined as the infliction on any child of physical, emotional, psychological or sexual harm and is by law, illegal. There is also what is known as the Convention on the Rights of the Child which was adopted by the United Nations in 1989 and ratified by Belize in 1990. This means that anyone causing harm to any child, even to his or her own child must be taken before a court of law and made to answer charges. Because Belize is still such a small and close knit society, many incidents of child abuse go unreported. It is clearly stated in the new Families and Children’s Act, however, that any person who learns of the suffering of any child due to abuse, shall have a social and moral obligation to report the case to the authorities. People like teachers, doctors, nurses and public servants are bound by law to report any known case or can themselves be brought up on charges.

Child abuse is a serious matter and the ramifications are far reaching. Most children who are abused grow up with a multitude of problems and while some are able to grow above them and a few even wax stronger from the travail, there are many who fall by the wayside. A study into the background of some of the world’s most notorious villains shows a history of some sort of child abuse.

The most profane type of child abuse is by far, sexual abuse. This is a problem which though long prevalent in society, has always been considered too taboo to even discuss but thanks to the Department of Human Development, it is finally being brought to the forefront. Today’s parents must face the possibility that someone may hurt or take advantage of their child and take every necessary step to prevent this. While many parents will hesitate to trust their children to total strangers, few will think twice before trusting them to a relative or friend. The alarming statistic here is that in almost every case where children are sexually abused, they are abused by someone they know and trust: maybe a relative, a family friend or caretaker. The use of physical force is rarely necessary to engage a child in sexual activity because children are naturally trusting and dependent. Children are taught not to question authority and they believe that adults are always right. They are also eager to please and to gain love and approval. Sexual abusers know this and take advantage of these vulnerabilities and it is therefore imperative that parents teach their children how to distinguish between a good touch and a bad touch.

We must teach our children about sexual abuse in order to increase their awareness and coping skills. We must also know how to make them feel comfortable enough to talk to us in the event that they have been threatened or abused. With all this in mind, the National Committee for Families and Children have been putting together workshops designed at teaching parents, teachers and the community at large how to recognize the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse. I dropped in on one such workshop for educators this past week but was disappointed at the small number of teachers in attendance. I believe that even if our schools have to be closed for a day or two, it would benefit us greatly to have our teachers familiar with this matter. Sexual abuse is an extremely damaging and traumatic experience and it is better for our children to lose a few hours of school than to lose the opportunity for a normal and healthy life.

Many times, children who are abused really want to tell what has happened but are too ashamed or feel that it is somehow their own fault. They are sometimes too young to put into words their experience or are either threatened or bribed by the abuser. Some feel that no one will believe them and we must do all we can to allay these fears. Many times as adults, we do not pay enough attention to the tell tale signs that reveal when a child is being abused. Some adults will tell you that they prefer to mind their own business but the safety of our children is everybody’s business and to remain silent is to be a party to this atrocity. It is said that it takes an entire village to raise a child and we must remember that the children of today will be the adults of tomorrow when those of us who are now adults will once again be like children. Let us do all we can to stop child abuse and to ensure that our children are given the best chance for a happy and productive life.

In the words of Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children;

They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself

They come through you but not from you

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

Treat them well

With the Last Word, G. Michael Reid.”

The opinions expressed on the Last Word are those of G. Michael Reid and not necessarily those of Channel Five. Comments are welcome.

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