UNITED Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged Caribbean states to lead the world in ending violence against women and girls.
Ban, a special guest of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders for their annual summit, led government officials, diplomats and sectoral leaders from across Barbados attending a UNWOMEN/UNICEF event to commit to the UNICEF global #ENDviolence and UN WOMEN HeForShe campaigns.
He told the audience that sexual assault of women and children in the Caribbean was among the highest globally and regional governments must intensify efforts to address the problem.
“The Caribbean has among the highest rates of sexual assault in the world. Three Caribbean countries are in the global top 10 for reported rapes. In the Eastern Caribbean, UNICEF estimates that child sexual abuse rates are between 20 and 45 per cent – meaning at least one in five precious children are affected. Most are girls who have no choice but to live close to their attacker. They desperately need our help,” Ban said.
He called for a change of mindset, especially among men, and for girls and women to be empowered to report cases of sexual assault.
“Too many women are afraid to seek help. One study showed that up to two thirds of all victims suffer without ever reporting the crime. I am outraged by this. Shame belongs to the perpetrators – not the victims,” the UN chief said.
Barbados’ Minister of Social Care Steven Blackett said the government fully endorsed the Break the Silence campaign and clear a shroud of secrecy around child sexual abuse as part of a “zero tolerance” anti-violence policy.
“The Break the Silence campaign is touching many sectors. It is reaching out to the education and health sectors to increasingly ensure that all frontline professionals know the signs of possible abuse of children; and when they see it, how to manage and refer to the appropriate specialized agencies,” the minister said.
A national mandatory reporting protocol for child sexual abuse is being finalised and laws are being updated in an attempt to tackle “unacceptably high” levels of child sexual abuse being recorded, Blackett said.
“Barbados is committed to a zero tolerance policy on all forms of violence against women and children, as no violence against them is justifiable and all violence is preventable. I pledge that we will continue our efforts to create a safer Barbados for our girls and boys, our men and women,” he added.
Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite also pledged that the Barbados Government will do all in its power to address the problem of abuse against women and children.
The event ended with UNICEF Representative Khin-Sandi Lwin inviting members of the audience to raise their right hands which were stamped with the #ENDviolence hashtag and repeat a pledge to end violence against children.