The Jamaica Gleaner
November 20, 2019 was universally acknowledged as World Children’s Day. On that date in 1989, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). As a signatory to the convention, Jamaica has committed to safeguarding the rights of children. On November 19, 2019, children were allowed to address our Parliament on a historic occasion. Through their words, we were made to listen to accounts of the level of violence and abuse our children face daily.
For a lot of us, those stories sounded familiar as we have heard similar things before, even in our very own communities, homes, schools, churches. Sport, incidentally, is one of the common spaces where abuse of children occurs worldwide. RJRGLEANER Communications Group sports journalist Karen Madden, in her op-ed Turning The Spotlight On Coaches – Rising Concern Over Sexual And Physical Abuse Of Athletes highlighted some of the issues faced by children who play sport. Before that, Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison delivered a keynote presentation entitled “Investing Now; Safeguarding our Future” at the Jamaica Olympic Association’s Sport for Breakfast series. Gordon Harrison highlighted some of the many abuses that children who play sport face, and even some of the issues in getting information to protect these children.
This month is a time for us to not just reflect on what our children are going through, but also recognise that sport can be a big enabler of child abuse. Each of us has a role to play. It is believed that one in four girls in Jamaica have been exposed to sexual abuse; while in Europe, about one in five children are victims of some form of sexual violence.
The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Channel Stop Child Sexual Abuse in Sport argues that “between 70 and 85 per cent of children know their abuser.” The vast majority of children are victims of people they ‘trust,’ which is similar to our local statistics. Additionally, about a third of abused children will never tell anyone. So sport is a huge gateway for abuse of children. This abuse can include, but is not limited to rape, pornography, sexual harassment, sexual touching, grooming, exploitation, online bullying, and so on.
A big reason children abuse can be rampant in sport is because there is a high tolerance and acceptance of pain and injury. Children are pushed beyond their limits and told that it is a part of being successful. Many parents support this notion too and allow coaches and managers to continue the physical and emotional abuse. Children in sport are encouraged to trust their coaches and sometimes find it difficult to distinguish that trust or support from sexual touching or grooming. The athlete is forced to listen to and obey given commands and is invariably afraid that he or she will not be taken seriously if he or she complains.
There is also the aspect of cover-ups in sports where often times it is argued that the various institutions are aware, but afraid of scandals; so they too do nothing to stop the abuse. Children then start to accept it or go in state of depression.
It is not all doom and gloom. However, I am suggesting that abuse of children in sports is probably more widespread in Jamaica than we want to accept. We all have a role to play in safeguarding children in our respective lives. This week, we also celebrated International Men’s Day. It is also a time for us men to reflect on our role in protecting our children and call out any form of abuse that we may witness or be aware of. In the words of 10-year-old Keino King in the Jamaica Parliament “So I ask you, what are you doing to help break the cycle?”
Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and host of The Drive Phase Podcast. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @daltonsmyers
Eight measures by the International Safeguard for Children in Sports group which could be used locally:
• Developing safeguard policies for children in sport
• Creating procedures for responding to any safeguarding concerns that may arise
• Providing facilities for advice and support of children
• Minimising any form of risks to children
• Creating guidelines for behaviour for coaches, administrators, athletes, et cetera
• Recruiting persons in sports should also include training programmes aimed at safeguarding children in sport from abuse
• Working with partners both locally and overseas to tackle issues of child abuse and protecting children in sport
• Monitoring and evaluating of any safeguarding tool along with self-evaluation to see if these measures are working.