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Today, November 25, marks the beginning of the annual observance of Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The final day of this period is,December 10 which marks the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In celebration of these pivotal dates in world history, we must all strive to educate ourselves about the rights afforded to us and what it means to honour and respect the rights of others. This will aid our recognition of the fact that violence in the form of battering, sexual abuse, sexual slavery, exploitation, trafficking and sexual harassment undermines one’s human rights.
It undermines an individual’s human right to:
1. Life2. Freedom from torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment3. Equal protection according to humanitarian norms in times of international or internal armed conflict4. Liberty and security of person5. Equal protection under the law6. Equality in the family7. The highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
This principle can be advanced by fostering a pro-equality stance; one that goes beyond, simply, accepting the philosophy that all human beings are the same, but recognizes the fact that there are stark differences in accessing resources and opportunities. We must appreciate that a different approach is needed to correct social imbalances.
And, it is in the correction of these imbalances that lie the key to restoring hope in the judicial system and to restoring national pride, thereby enhancing the value we place on human life.
We need therefore to implement a sustainable deterrent against violence in Jamaica that will bring about a restoration of hope in a society that has sadly lost touch with what it means to value life. The spate of violence that is associated with a country that can produce the world’s two fastest men and some of the fastest women and sprinting legends cannot be ignored.
In 2008 ironically termed ‘two thousand and love’, the month of September has witnessed over one hundred murders, sixty four reported cases of rape, twenty one reported cases of carnal abuse and crimes against women have increased by 30%. There is also a rise in the number of predatory crimes committed against the ‘girl child’. Up to September more than 700 children were reported missing since the start of the year. Of this number, one hundred and seventy seven (177) were boys while five hundred and sixty (560) were girls. Fortunately, more than five hundred (500) of them were eventually accounted for leaving two hundred (200) children still missing.
One cannot begin to describe the heart wrenching pain that comes from learning of the sexual molestation and gruesome murders of our girls and boys, lives callously ended too soon.
Jamaica is a signatory to the Beijing Platform of Action and a member of Caricom, the only region where every state has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.We are also signatories to the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence Against Women.
By signing these conventions, every Jamaican has the responsibility to ensure that Human Rights and social justice are maintained.
The Government actively continues to uphold the human rights of its citizens through the development of policies such as the National Gender Policy and the Sexual Harassment Policy.
Submissions have been made towards combining two pieces of legislations, the ‘Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Act and the Incest (Punishment) (Amendment) Act to form the Sexual Offences Bill – towards creating the Sexual Offences Act which we plan to take to the Parliament within the next two weeks. The Prime Minister has also established a task force on Child Abuse, of which I am a part.
I implore us all, as a society, to fight for a better tomorrow and to passionately work to continue to change the course of our future. We must all band together and act as a catalyst for change and raise our voices and shout, Human Rights for Women” Human Rights for our Girls and our boys, Human Rights for all.We must end the cycle of violence that is plaguing our land.
Let us seek to capitalize on our positives, our gifts and our talents and abilities and work towards re-building this nation in the true spirit of love and unity.