Chief Education Officer, Melena Fontaine has said some of the behavioural problems of children at schools in Dominica are the result of sexual and physical abuse.
Fontaine made that statement when she addressed the NGO Coalition for the Protection of Children and Youth’s second Town Hall meeting on child abuse which took place at the Prevo Cinemall on Wednesday.
“We are having behaviour problems in schools and we know that some of it is related to child sexual abuse and child physical abuse as well…and also we see it in the behaviour of our children,” she said.
She stated some of the students’ ability to be educated is being affected.
“Some of them cannot learn, not because they do not have the capacity to learn, not because they do have a good functioning brain but because emotionally they cannot sit in a class and function,” she stated. “When your father, when your mother, when your uncle and your brother and your cousin and a family friend abuses you the night before, there is no way you can come and sit down in a class next morning and say you are doing work.”
Not only that, she pointed out, but the entire child is affected.
“Your attention is affected, your memory is affected, your entire body is affected and if we, as education officials, if we, as schools, do not understand, we are going to go about our merry way teaching children and at the end of the day saying that they cannot learn and we know that, that is not a fact,” Fontaine explained.
She noted further that it is not the school’s responsibility to take care of what is happening at home.
“It is you the parent’s responsibility to take care of what is happening at home, and know that what is happening at home affects what is happening at school,” Fontaine said.
Fontaine revealed that there are situations where counsellors had to be assigned to a number of schools to find ways in dealing with children affected by sexual abuse and in some cases children have lost their minds and have suicidal thoughts after being abused.
“They lose their minds and we have had to refer children to the psychiatric unit,” she revealed. “Our officers have had to spend weekends, when they should be at home relaxing with their children, dealing with children in the psychiatric unit. And then the worst one, they think about it, they plan it, they want to do it and some of them actually do it. Fortunately we have not lost somebody…”
One of the challenges of the Ministry of Education is the reporting of child abuse, Fontaine noted.
“We have to work on that and we have to deal with it, we have to deal with our teachers, recognizing the symptoms and reporting it as soon as they do,” she stated.
Another problem, she said, is reporting from parents.
“Sometimes they come to us and they want us to deal with the behaviour, but they don’t want us to really deal with the physical abuse…” she noted. “Some parents are saying this is the person who is supporting my home and I don’t want to report that person.”
She also pointed to the difference between punishment and child abuse.
“If you are punishing a child by squeezing her breasts that’s sexual abuse…if you are correcting a child by squeezing their private part, it is not a punishment, its sexual abuse,” Fontaine said.