There was a staggering 135 reported cases of child sexual abuse in Dominica in 2014, Coordinator of the Child Abuse Prevention Unit, Jemma Azille Lewis has revealed.
In total there were 175 reported cases of child abuse on the island, with girls shouldering the lion’s share of abuse cases.
Statistics reveal that a total of 155 girls were abused in Dominica last year.
Of the sexual cases, five were boys and 130 were girls.
“I broke down the sexual abuse seeing that it is the main form of abuse being reported: boys 5, girls 130 in terms of sexual abuse,” Azille-Lewis said. “Incest 20, that is sexual abuse within the family and teen pregnancy we had only nine reported cases.”
The other forms of abuse were physical, 24, neglect, 7, neglect combined with physical, 4.
“So keep in mind we had a 170 cases child abuse incidents reported for 2014. In terms of children from 0-5 years being abused 24, 6-10 years of age 38, 11-15 years 101 and 16-17 years of age 7 cases,” she stated. “We look at child abuse by gender boys (male) 15 cases, female 155 cases.”
In the face of such numbers the Child Abuse Prevention Unit is facing many challenges.
“We do have a few challenges, such as the lack of resources, both human and technical, inadequate legislation,” Azille-Lewis noted. “We have the Sexual Offenses Act which is of 1998 and there needs to be a review of it to ensure that we are up to date.”
Additionally weak enforcement of existing legislation is posing a serious problem.
“For example, if you have somebody that is found guilty of a sexual offense and you can take up to 25 years or 14 years (in prison), why is that you only pay a fine of $3,000?” she asked. “Why is it that you only take maybe a prison confinement of three months of six months and do community service for the rest?”
The absence of a family court, parents refusing to testify in court or taking bribes also pose major problems..
“We have incest cases that have just gone down the drain. We have all different forms of cases, pregnancy issues, where teenagers become pregnant and the cases die,” Azille-Lewis lamented.
Meanwhile she noted that the Social Welfare Division has moved up a step but there is still room for improvement.
“I remember just coming in into the Social Welfare Division, some agencies were not really interested in reporting anything,” Azille-Lewis stated. “We have had better collaboration with some childcare agencies, of course, there is need for improvement but we have moved up a step from where we were.”
She added, “We have definitely increase support from the CID (Criminal Investigation Department), greater public awareness on child abuse matters. A lot more people are reporting and coming to us about the issue. There is increase support by the general public in dealing with child abuse matters.”
She mentioned further that the Welfare Division have been successful in finding homes for abused children
“Also another success is that we have the home for children at risk, which is CHANCES, so in case that we don’t get foster placement immediately, we can place them in the institution in Jimmit … in the meantime we look for a foster care placement,” Azille-Lewis noted.
However challenges remain.
“When the children are abused and they are teenagers then nobody wants to foster a teenage child, so we still have this challenge there,” she noted.