By Makeida Antonio
Cabinet has come under fire for its attempt to address pervasive acts of sexual violence against minors.
Bus drivers were singled out in this week’s Cabinet notes for repeatedly breaching the Sexual Offences Act (2015), which stipulates that children under the age of 16 cannot consent to engaging in sexual activity.
Addison Browne, a bus driver, was convicted on Wednesday for tying up a minor and raping her after he was given the responsibility for taking her home in his private vehicle.
In response, Cabinet agreed for new measures to be put in place to ensure that predators face the harshest penalties provided by the law.
“Cabinet abhors violation of young children and will act to ensure that these violations come to an end and sexual predators against minors must face the severity of the law,” the notes further stated.
However, youth and gender advocate Zahra Airall argued that lack of enforcement of the laws regarding sexual offences against minors should be enforced and all abusers should face severe consequences.
“I don’t think the focus should just be on the bus men. The focus needs to be on all predators. From the politicians to the pastors, teachers, other workers and anyone else who comes into contact with children –their uncles and their aunts [too], because I think people tend to forget that women can be predators, too,” Airall said during an interview yesterday.
“What this can be a stepping ground for is an encouragement for everyone to stop concealing the family paedophile, for everyone not to turn to their Bible instead of reporting the pastor who molested their child, for persons to actually come forward when it is someone of influence or affluence who has interfered with a minor.”
Airall has long been advocating for the establishment of a sex offenders registry in Antigua and Barbuda.
She insists that proper mechanisms must be set to achieve the intended purpose and function of such a list in our society.
“This is something I have been asking about for over 10 years. I definitely support it. However, simply having a registry without consequence means nothing. So, again, it is enforcement of the laws because having your name on a list and people ignore it is not enough.
“We need to have the facilities in place to make sure that a sex offenders registry is impactful,” Airall added.
These issues remain recurring as several court cases involving the violation of minors have gone locally viral on social media in the past six months alone.
Cabinet spokesperson Melford Nicholas shed light on grooming of school children where they are lured by predators with promises of a relationship and flashy gifts.
“On observation, it was noted that some bus drivers have children below the age of consent that are in their vehicles for a very long time and they are going to and fro with them and are not allowing them to go to school.
“Or perhaps, maybe they would have groomed them to the position where they would accept gifts to make them available for the level of exploitation that they are doing,” Nicholas said.
Fellow youth and gender advocate Kadeem Joseph echoed sentiments similar to Airall’s, and made a suggestion to the Cabinet during Thursday morning’s press briefing.
“While I am happy that the Cabinet recognises the importance of strongly addressing the predatory behaviour towards children in Antigua and Barbuda, I believe that more needs to be done to address the pervasive culture of silence that we have surrounding these issues.
“We often see questionable and downright inappropriate behaviour involving children and there is just silence and often silence is viewed as tolerance. It’s also not just a bus driver issue, and young females are not the only targets of predatory behaviour,” Joseph recommended.
He further stated that beyond legislation, a strong message must be sent that Antiguans and Barbudans will not tolerate the violation of children, whether it be perpetrated by leaders or the common man, and it must be called out often, as “one child is too much”.