I share some common background with our clients – girls and young women – in experiencing childhood sexual abuse. From the age of six years-old it was a cousin ten years older who abused me. Yet I was always thinking that I was playing dolly house.
At Eve for Life, about 75-80 per cent of our mentees have experienced child sexual abuse by a relative. Some are HIV positive because of incest and were even forced to do an abortion.
The scale of the problem is so big and I think there is a lot of underreporting. We need to have a deeper conversation around incest and child sexual exploitation in Jamaica. The population also needs to understand the long-term damage such as mental health issues, suicidal ideation, introversion, unhealthy relationships etc.
Families who exploit their girl children
Culturally, we need to address the power dynamics. We need to challenge where excuses are made and the ways that victims, including children, are blamed: ‘you always wear short shorts in front of yuh uncle, why yuh always play like yuh big’.
We continue to experience the preying of older men preying on our girls with families ill-equipped to respond. But then there are also mothers themselves who are prostituting and exploiting their children. Sadly this is not uncommon in Portland where I grew up in, and in communities throughout Jamaica where Eve for Life works.
Instead of a childhood, our girls are forced to become the breadwinners of the family. They are groomed to enter in transactional sex to pay for their CXC subjects, lunch money, care for the smaller siblings etc.
Empower girls to take back their lives
Many because of what they have been through are not even functioning. Often they have not completed their CXC exams. They are not working if they are aged below-18 and if older they lack the skills and qualifications to compete in the job market.
So escaping is often not yet an option. Eve for Life wants to empower them to take back their own lives, to make better life choices and reintegrate into society as confident adults.
I appreciate the numbers of those we impact but get the biggest buzz from the individual progress. I don’t work with clients directly as our mentor moms do, but just knowing that I help design programmes that help our girls is amazing.
Happiest when seeing success stories
When we have a client who can boast that they are virally suppressed or have an exit plan from their abusive relationship or that they got a new job. Knowing that as part of Eve for Life I contributed gives me the spark to do what can be a really hard job.
I have a lot more to contribute to Eve for Life and I am aiming to learn and explore new skills. Recently, we partnered with Jamaica Association of the Deaf to trained our staff in basic Jamaican Sign Language. Our programmes will always evolving to meet the needs of our girls.
Fulfilling children’s rights is at the heart of what we do at UNICEF. This year, as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, we feature a special ‘30 under 30’ series, highlighting amazing Jamaican children and youth like Francine who are using their skills and talents to help protect and realise the rights of other young citizens. The focus of the series is on efforts to protect children from violence.