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Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: Prevalence and forms of child abuse, including legislation, state protection and availability of child protection services (2008-2011)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 4 November 2011
Citation / Document Symbol VCT103849.E
Related Document Saint-Vincent-et-les Grenadines : information sur la fréquence des cas d'enfants maltraités et les formes de mauvais traitements qu'ils subissent, y compris sur les lois, la protection offerte par l'État et les services de protection de l'enfance (2008-2011)
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: Prevalence and forms of child abuse, including legislation, state protection and availability of child protection services (2008-2011), 4 November 2011, VCT103849.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5072b0592.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

A representative of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA) indicated, through correspondence with the Research Directorate, that child abuse, incest and violence against children are "prevalent" problems in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (30 Sept. 2011). Similarly, according to a 2009 United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report, sexual abuse of children in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is "vastly under-reported" but believed to be a "significant" problem (UN Nov. 2009, 28). Since 2006 there has been an increase in reports of incest involving girls in the country as well as reports of children adding to family income through involvement in "commercial sexual exploitation" (ibid.). An earlier UNICEF report explained that it is considered socially acceptable in the Caribbean for older men to seduce younger girls, and that such relationships are sometimes encouraged for economic reasons (ibid. 7 Feb. 2007, 67).

Sources also indicate that corporal punishment is common in the region and the main form of disciplining children (UN n.d.; Hodge 2010, 2). Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (GIEACPC) reported to the UN Human Rights Council that corporal punishment is lawful in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and that although Article 8 of the Juveniles Act proscribes "ill-treatment" of children, it allows parents, teachers and others with authority over children to administer "'reasonable' punishment" (UN 28 Jan. 2011, para. 1).

In a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, St. Vincent and the Grenadines authorities maintain that the breakdown in family structure is a cause of child abuse in their country (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 17 Feb. 2011, Sec. 68). Sources indicate that it is common for children there to live in single-mother households (UN n.d.; St. Vincent and the Grenadines and NCRC 6 Apr. 2008, 22). According to UNICEF , "'child shifting'"--sending a child to live with a relative or friend for an extended period--is common among low-income Afro-Caribbean families, and between 18 and 28 percent of children in Barbados, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines do not live with a biological parent (UN 2009, 22). UNICEF also explains that having a parent migrate to North America to find work is one of the reasons for children living with a relative or friend, but that this sometimes results in neglect or abuse of the child (UN n.d.).

In a 2009 UNICEF-commissioned survey on child sexual abuse in the Eastern Caribbean, although the majority of respondents stated that sexual activity between adults and children is "never acceptable," 70.2 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that "'women sometimes turn a blind eye when their partners have sex with children in their families'" (UN Sept. 2009, 9). Reasons for why this might happen, according to the survey, include poverty, patriarchal attitudes, "gender socialization and norms," cyclical abuse (in which those who were sexually abused as children become abusers) and "predatory behaviour" among some men (ibid.).

Sources indicate that there are street children in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (UN Nov. 2009, 28; St. Vincent and the Grenadines and NCRC 6 Apr. 2008, 8). According to a survey of street children conducted in 2008, the main cause of children turning to the streets is dysfunctional homes, such as step-fathers who do not want their step-children, or who are abusive (ibid., 9).

Legislation

In a 2009 report, UNICEF characterizes the laws and policies to protect children in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as "woefully outdated" (UN Nov. 2009, 28). The United States (US) Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010 similarly indicates that the country's legal framework in that field is "limited" (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6).

According to the Director of the Family Services Division (also called Family Services Department), the St. Vincent and the Grenadines parliament passed the Child Care and Adoption Act in 2010, which makes it mandatory to report child abuse and more difficult to adopt children (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 12 Oct. 2011). However, he noted that the regulations to implement the Child Care and Adoption Act were still in progress (ibid. 3 Oct. 2011). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of Marion House, an organization that provides counselling and social services to a variety of groups, including youth and domestic abuse victims, stated that abuse victims who go to health care centres are referred to the police (Marion House 17 Oct. 2011). However, the representative of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA) stated that whether child abuse victims are referred to the police depends on the personnel at the hospital or clinic (30 Sept. 2011). In her perspective, reporting is not mandatory and there is no "established referral system" (SVGHRA 30 Sept. 2011).

The Family Services director also indicated that "Status of Child" legislation passed in 2011, which ensures that all children have the same rights regardless of colour, creed, religion, or whether the child is born in or out of wedlock (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 12 Oct. 2011).

According to St. Vincent and the Grenadines authorities, the main legislation addressing child protection is the Domestic Violence Summary Proceedings Act (ibid. 17 Feb. 2011, Sec. 44). According to the Family Court, the following people may apply for a protection or occupation order on behalf of a child:

  • a person with whom the child or dependant normally resides or resides on a regular basis or any member of the household;
  • a parent or guardian of the child or dependant. E.g. dependant is a physically challenged or mentally disabled person;
  • a person experienced or qualified in Social Welfare approved by the Minister in writing or a police officer;
  • a person holding the office or performing the duties of a Probation Officer or a medical Social Worker;
  • the Solicitor General. (ibid. n.d.a)

Sources state that the age of consent in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is 15 years old (ibid. 3 Oct. 2011; US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). The punishment prescribed by the law for sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 13 is reportedly life imprisonment (ibid.; St. Vincent and the Grenadines 3 Oct. 2011). The Family Services director, in a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, said that the maximum punishment for sexual intercourse with a child between the ages of 13 and 15 years is 15 years imprisonment (ibid.). However, Country Reports 2010 indicates that the punishment is 5 years imprisonment (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). The SVGHRA representative noted that even though 2010 statistics show that a number of girls under the age of 13 years gave birth in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there were no arrests of the babies' fathers, demonstrating that such cases are not handled effectively (SVGHRA 30 Sept. 2011).

State Protection

The Family Services Division is the agency of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines government responsible for monitoring child protection (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 17 Feb. 2011, Sec. 44). The Family Services director stated that there has been a recent increase in the number of child abuse cases reported to the Division as a result of greater advocacy on the topic (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 12 Oct. 2011). He provided the following statistics about the number of child abuse cases reported to the Division:

Year Sexual Abuse Physical Abuse Neglect Abandon-ment* Emotional Abuse Non-mainte-nance** Total
2008 40 30 78 37 25 170 380
2009 32 59 94 31 86 118 420
2010 46 183 164 106 173 342 1014

* not caring for child for days/weeks at a time
**not paying support for the child (99% men). (ibid.)

Sources indicate that the country has a foster care system (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 3 Oct. 2011; SVGHRA 30 Sept. 2011), that serves children up to 16 years (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 3 Oct. 2011). According to the Family Services director, approximately 200 children are in foster care (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 3 Oct. 2011). Of the 200 children, he claims that approximately 60 to 70 percent are victims of child abuse, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and gross neglect (ibid.). The Director stated that in cases in which children and teenagers are victims of sexual assault or incest, the individual is either placed with other family members or in foster care (ibid.). He explained that the state investigates families accepted to the foster care system and provides them with a stipend (ibid.). In addition, the state pays for the child's clothing, medical expenses, and educational expenses (such as for transportation to school, meals at school, and fees for higher level exams) (ibid.). According to the website of the Ministry of National Mobilisation, Social Development, the Family, Persons with Disabilities, Youth, Sports and Culture, social workers make regular visits to the home of the foster family and provide counselling to the child, foster parent(s) and biological parent(s) (ibid. n.d.c).

The Family Services director said that there are no government-affiliated shelters for abused children, but that there are plans for a portion of the National Crisis Centre, which is planned to open in a few months' time, to temporarily house abused children until they are placed within families (ibid. 3 Oct. 2011).

The Director also noted that when cases of child abuse, sexual abuse or incest come to their attention, they contact the police, who investigate the matter (ibid.). Country Reports 2010 corroborates that the Family Services Division refers child abuse cases to the police, and notes that the Division also assists children to obtain protection orders from the Family Court (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). The Ministry of National Mobilisation, Social Development, the Family, Persons with Disabilities, Youth, Sports and Culture also reportedly coordinates activities to raise awareness of child abuse, particularly in April, which is designated as "Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month" (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 6 Apr. 2011).

Police

Information about police effectiveness in handling child abuse cases was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. According to St. Vincent and the Grenadines authorities, the police have received training on handling cases of domestic violence (UN 11 July 2011, Sec. 30). While the Family Services director expressed the opinion that the system "generally works" (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 3 Oct. 2011), the SVGHRA representative stated that people are reluctant to report child abuse cases to the police due to fear, privacy concerns, and because police investigations into child abuse cases are generally prolonged (30 Sept. 2011).

The representative also noted that the nature of the police investigation may vary depending on the police officer's connection to the victim or alleged perpetrator (SVGHRA 30 Sept. 2011). In her opinion, in cases in which the victim is connected to a police officer, the investigation may proceed more quickly, but in cases in which the alleged perpetrator is a friend or relative of the officer, the files may "go missing" (ibid.). This information could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Judiciary

According to the Family Services director, the Family Court handles preliminary aspects of child abuse, sexual assault and incest cases, and then the cases are moved to the High Court (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 3 Oct. 2011).

A 2007 UNICEF report indicates that for child abuse cases in the Caribbean, the police and prosecutors often have difficulties prosecuting alleged abusers because parents are unwilling to testify or prevent their children from testifying (UN 7 Feb. 2007, 67). However, a representative from the social service centre Marion House, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, expressed the opinion that in cases in which the victim is willing to press charges, "every effort" is taken to have the matter heard in court (Marion House 17 Oct. 2011).

Statistics on the number of child abuse, incest, and sexual assault cases tried by the Court could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, the Kingstown-based newspaper The Vincentian has reported cases of sexual abuse charges brought before the Family Court in September and October of 2011 (The Vincentian 22 Sept. 2011; ibid. 6 Oct. 2011). In one example, a 20-year-old was charged with having "unlawful sexual intercourse" with a child under the age of 13 years (ibid.). In another example a 50-year-old man was charged with three counts of rape and incest for allegedly raping his 16-year-old daughter on three occasions in August 2010 (ibid. 22 Sept. 2011). According to the article, the rape and incest case was one of several recent sexual abuse cases brought before the Court (ibid.).

The support staff at the Family Court, which includes a legal clerk, counsellors and probation officers, also provides services to child abuse victims, such as counselling or mediation in some cases of maintenance (St. Vincent and the Grenadines n.d.b). The Family Court also refers clients to other organizations that provide services, such as to probation officers at the Family Services Division or to Marion House (ibid.).

Other social services for victims of child abuse

According to the representative of Marion House, their organization offers, among other services: counselling to victims of domestic violence; an empowerment programme for young parents that includes a component on discipline and child abuse prevention; a youth assistance program aimed at increasing employment opportunities and independence of unemployed youth; and research and community outreach (Marion House 17 Oct. 2011).

The Family Services director also said that the Catholic Church provides services to child abuse victims in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, such as placement in Our Lady of Guadeloupe, a group home for secondary-school-aged girls (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 3 Oct. 2011). He also noted that the Bread of Life, a home for elementary-school-aged children, houses some child abuse victims but is primarily for children who lost their parents because of AIDS (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Hodge, Merle. 2010. "Commentary: Everyday Violence Against Children." Caribbean Review of Gender Studies. No. 4. The University of West Indies Institute of Gender and Development Studies.

Marion House. 17 October 2011. Correspondence of a representative to the Research Directorate.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. 12 October 2011. Ministry of National Mobilisation, Social Development, the Family, Persons with Disabilities, Youth, Sports and Culture. Telephone interview by the Research Directorate with the Director of the Family Services Division.

_____. 3 October 2011. Ministry of National Mobilisation, Social Development, the Family, Persons with Disabilities, Youth, Sports and Culture. Telephone interview by the Research Directorate with the Director of the Family Services Division.

_____. 6 April 2011. Media Centre. "Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month." [Accessed 27 Sept. 2011]

_____. 17 February 2011. National Report Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 15 (a) of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. (A/HRC/WG.6/11/VCT/1). (United Nations Refworld) [Accessed 26 Sept. 2011]

_____. N.d.a. Family Court. "Protection/Occupation Orders." [Accessed 27 Sept. 2011]

_____. N.d.b. Family Court. "Support System." [Accessed 27 Sept. 2011]

_____. N.d.c. Ministry of National Mobilisation, Social Development, the Family, Persons with Disabilities, Youth, Sports and Culture. "Frequently Asked Questions About Foster Care." [Accessed 20 Oct. 2011]

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA). 30 September 2011. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the National Committee on the Rights of the Child (NCRC). 6 April 2008. Lead consultant: Monica Thomas Woodley. The Conduct of a Survey on Street Children within a Specified Geographic Area of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (United Nations Children's Fund - UNICEF) [Accessed 11 Oct. 2011]

United Nations (UN). 11 July 2011. Human Rights Council. "Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines." (A/HRC/18/15) (UN Refworld) [Accessed 26 Sept. 2011]

_____. 28 January 2011. Human Rights Council. "Summary Prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Accordance with Paragraph 15 (c) of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1." (A/HRC/WG.6/11/VCT/3) (UN Refworld) [Accessed 26 Sept. 2011]

_____. November 2009. Children's Fund (UNICEF). Children in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. Child Rights - The Unfinished Agenda. [Accessed 11 Oct. 2011]

_____. September 2009. Children's Fund (UNICEF). Children In Focus. Unmasking Child Sexual Abuse. [Accessed 11 Oct. 2011]

_____. 2009. Children's Fund (UNICEF). Children and Families in Transition: Young Parents and Caretakers in the Eastern Caribbean. [Accessed 11 Oct. 2011]

_____. 7 February 2007. Children's Fund (UNICEF). Situation Analysis of Children and Women in the Eastern Caribbean. [Accessed 26 Sept. 2011]

_____. N.d. Children's Fund (UNICEF). "Eastern Caribbean. Overview." [Accessed 26 Sept. 2011]

United States (US). 8 April 2011. "Saint Vincent and the Grenadines." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010. [Accessed 4 Oct. 2011]

The Vincentian. 6 October 2011. Haydn Huggins. "Youth on Sex Charge." [Accessed 11 Oct. 2011]

_____. 22 September 2011. Haydn Huggins. "Man Charged with Incest, Rape." [Accessed 5 Oct. 2011]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Royal Police Force and the Family Court were unsuccessful within the time constraints of this Response. An official at the Consulate of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in Toronto was unable to provide information.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; Caribbean News Agency; Factiva; Freedom House; Human Rights Watch; Organization of Eastern Caribbean States; United Nations — Refworld, United Nations Development Program; the University of the West Indies.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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