Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Memo to Dominica's children: Your government does not care about you.

The growing child abuse crisis in Dominica is the result of cultural and systemic obstacles that make identification and prosecution of abuse near impossible.  Currently, there are more than 1,000 child abuses cases sitting at the Director of Public Prosecution’s office dating back more than 10 years.  The victims of these cases may never obtain justice, as the evidence, witnesses, and alleged abusers may no longer be available by the time the case is brought to court, if ever.

But this is a known fact by the government of Dominica, and despite numerous calls from all sectors of society, the resounding message from the Roosevelt Skerrit administration has been a painful shrug: We simply do not care about the nation’s children.

Consider what happens when a child abuse case isn’t swiftly prosecuted. The abusers remain under cover in the families, communities, schools, and other institutions where they may continue to prey on young children. Young victims may be forced to continue to interact or encounter their abusers, fearing retaliation. But perhaps even worse than this, the victims of abuse are taught a life-changing lesson that will affect the future of this young country – that the people elected to office, appointed to implement and uphold the law, simply do not care about their pain, the injustice inflicted upon them, and the impact this incident will have on their lives. How, then, can we expect to develop a strong country, a proud and thriving nation, when more than 1,000 children and their families were sent the powerful message that the country simply does not care about their safety and well-being?

Below is a testimony from one parent who went through the rigors and frustration of Dominica’s legal system in an attempt to obtain justice for her child.  She continues to wait while the court drags its feet, fails to follow through on its own procedures, and teaches yet another family the pain and sacrifice now required to call oneself a citizen of Dominica.

Occurrences during the campaigns for the upcoming Soufriere by-election, underscore the Roosevelt Skerrit government’s lack of concern for the children of Dominica. Though cabinet minister Ian Pinard embarrassingly resigned from both his cabinet post and as a member of parliament for alleged abuse of a minor, his  party’s candidate Denise Charles– and sole female candidate in this election – has yet to make her position on child abuse clear. Her opponent Hidges Adams and the United Workers Party have made numerous calls for Charles to signal her willingness to change the landscape in Dominica for abused children. Instead, she sat silently while members of her party promised their continued support for the alleged-child abuser, going as far as calling him a hero. Yet, her inaction and silence on the topic is palpable and painfully clear:  as a potential-law maker she will stand by her “mentor,” the alleged-child abuser, despite the fact that child abuse has reached monumental proportions in Dominica. There will be no kind words, no gesture of support, or promise of better days for the alleged-victim and the thousands of other child victims throughout Dominica.

As parliamentary members of  the majority Dominica Labour Party refuse to stand in defense of children, the ball is now in the court of the Attorney General, Levi Peter, and Director of Public Prosecution, Evelina Baptiste. Will they now demand the resources necessary to clear the backlog of child abuse cases and demand a family court to ensure justice is delivered for the children of Dominica? Or will they reiterate the years-old message to Dominica’s children: The government of Dominica simply does not care about you.

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