In the face of this global pandemic, unfortunately, children are mostly abused by adults known to them, for example, family members, neighbours, relatives, older siblings, and even close friends of the family. Many parents will have to go out to work and their children will be at home; some with adult supervision and some without any adult supervision. Over the past three months – March 2020 to May 2020 – Blossom Inc. and ChildLinK received referrals for 104 cases of child sexual abuse to their Child Advocacy Centres (CAC) in Regions One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, and 10. The alleged perpetrators of these heinous crimes are in most cases known to the child and the parents. In two of the many cases that were referred to us during the pandemic, the alleged offenders were neighbours who were aware that the parents had to go to work during the epidemic and leave their children at home. They proceeded to attempt to sexually assault two girls in different families who were at home.
Working with and supporting the Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) in fighting to safeguard the well-being of every child, ChildLinK and Blossom’s approach serves to respond appropriately and holistically to child sexual abuse during this unprecedented time in our world. Nonetheless, as a result of the global pandemic, children are at greater risk of experiencing child sexual abuse. Hence, the wider collaboration of government and civil society, inclusive of the CPA, law enforcement, and CACs, remains critical to ensure that the investigation of reported cases continues by conducting forensic interviews, medical examinations, and providing psycho-social support during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Blossom Inc. and ChildLinK have observed that many cases that come into the CACs are cases where there is a lack of adequate parental supervision. Some children live in families where the parent(s) are essential workers who are required to work during the partial lockdown; these include security guards, nurses, pump attendants, vendors, and call center agents. As a result, abusers have easier access to these workers’ children. In a recent report, an adult male was walking along the street in his community when he noticed a single mother leaving her home to go to work. He followed the mother as she walked towards the public road to catch public transportation. After the mother entered the bus, he turned around and headed to the woman’s house where her children were at home. The man was known to both the woman and the children. He engaged one of the children in a conversation. After a few minutes, he forced his way into the home and sexually assaulted the child. This is one of many examples where a child was left without adequate adult protection and was manipulated and taken advantage of by an adult she thought she could trust.
As in the case above, Blossom Inc. and ChildLinK recommend that parents have practical conversations with their children on how to communicate with others and family members on what are some of the signs that should alert them to danger. Some parents will get support from older siblings. They too need to be given guidance on safeguarding younger children who are in their care. Nevertheless, the reality of the current situation in many homes in Guyana and even outside of the epidemic does not permit adequate protection of children from child sexual abuse. Many families have only one option with respect to leaving their children under the care of an adult. Sometimes it is with an aunt, or a cousin, or grandparents who will provide care in the absence of the parent(s). In one of our cases, a child under 10 years old was left at many different locations. She was unable to relate to the forensic interviewer who had sexually abused her and when it had happened since she had been left with cousins, uncles, and adult family friends.
Parents, we appeal to you to be more aware of who you leave your children in the care of, and upon your return, take some time to ask your children about their daily activities and ensure they feel safe with the person providing supervision in your absence. We call on you to be observant of their behaviours, their friends, and who are becoming important to them in order to understand and identify any risk of child sexual abuse. Blossom Inc. and ChildLinK, through our funding from the Government of Guyana, European Union, and UNICEF, continue to provide essential services throughout this epidemic. Please report all suspected cases of child sexual abuse by calling the Childcare and Protection Agency Hotline on 227-0979 or the nearest police station.