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At schools across the island, the videos are causing a stir. The wireless internet is abuzz with footage of school children, some of them under 14 years of age, committing sex acts with multiple partners. Children from two different schools were involved. In one video, a fifth form girl in school uniform is exposed on camera as the hands of unseen persons play with her vagina. In another two videos, one underage girl from a Castries school performs fellatio on a younger student. Later she engages in a threesome with two other students, performing oral sex on one, another penetrating her from the back, while the one she performed fellatio on records the event with a telephone camera.
The STAR has confirmed that all the students in the second set of videos are 14 years of age or under. One of the participants was actually a form one student. The students are known to be from the same community and some of them are actually related. It is not the first time that St Lucian students have been recorded committing such acts. What it is, is a startling reminder that in spite of the consequences that others have faced, the youth persist in this kind of behaviour and adults seem increasingly powerless to do anything about it.
At the education ministry, the videos are a bit like old news. Chief Education Officer, Augusta Ifill, was dealing with the controversy that is now exploding way back in January. The STAR put her on the spot about a controversy that goes to the heart of the social problems that are defining the future of the island.
“I haven’t seen the video but I am aware of the cases,” she told the STAR yesterday. But Ifill, unlike past chief education officers would not pretend she didn’t know the relevant details.
“One of the instances, the child has had a past incident,” she told the STAR. “It did not occur at the school. We recognized she had a problem. She had an incident before. It was not a case that happened at the school. The first time, she went to the boy’s home and she had to go out of her way to go there. The parents were called in and we recognized that there was a problem. What was recommended was that the parents take the child for counseling.”
That one was also circulated on the internet, making that fifth form student a two time victim of Internet mischief and her own sexual proclivity. That student, it turns out, is actually related to the principal of her school, illustrating how close to home the problems children face nowadays can get.
Off the record, parents, teachers, the education ministry and society in general are all pointing fingers at each other for the state of things among the youth. One principal recently went as far as to say on camera that she was not responsible for children after three. But Ifill respectfully disagrees.
“Children are our business,” she insisted. “Our insurances cover them on the way to school and from school. After three, if something happens to them, we have some responsibility for them. No single agency can solve these problems. It takes collective responsibility.”
But is it a problem with sex or is it a problem with technology?
Ifill remembers when she was principal at Entrepot Secondary in the 1990s that she received repeated reports of school children having sex in public, including on the steps of CDC apartments in the city center. Children have been having sex since time immemorial without the kinds of consequences they face today. So is it the technology that causes it then?
“I heard the NPA (National Principals Association) president saying that it was technology and she seemed to think that because they have the cameras they will do outrageous things. I have a different view. I think the children should have their phones off at school. But when a child will have sex in an open classroom or in the bush on the way from school, there is a deeper problem. In the other school, that child too has a problem. When the children are under 14, we refer to Human Services. But we have counselors at each secondary school. Sometimes, we have to take the child out of one school setting and place them in another.”
In one of the cases, the child was identified before the current incident and was in counseling.
“We left the child at the school because of the circumstance (the child was related to the principal) they could keep a closer eye on her,” Ifill said. “In that case, this was not the first time she was on the internet. It is as if they realize that she is easy prey.”
But with over 700 children in the school, the young girl could not be policed at every minute, so that a relapse was hardly unexpected. The other girl had also had an issue before, but not at the school.
“That child has had issues before,” Ifill said. “And that child needs help too.”
One of the boys who shot the footage of the second girl (the one in the threesome) actually told school and ministry officials that he meant to bring it to her mother to prove to her what her daughter was doing. Ironically, the video shows him doing it too. Parents find it easy to ring their hands in frustration at this, but at the education ministry, they do not have the luxury that parents have of passing the buck. The media would not be so kind to them as it might be to a frustrating, teary-eyed mother. But what is a parent to do. Furthermore, what is a principal or a ministry to do when kids decide not only to have unprotected sex at an early age, but to record and distribute it and persist in such behaviour even after things go very, very wrong?
“If you have a child in your home who is having problems like this, what would you do?” Ifill asked rhetorically. “You would seek professional help. And this is what we have done in both cases. In one case, the parents sought help themselves. But for people who cannot afford this, schools have counselors. Each secondary school has counselors and each district has a district counselor. Trinidad has one per district. We have one per secondary school in addition to the district counselors.”
If children and parents don’t like their school counselor, as they often do not, the ministry has provided the district counselor as an alternative. The district counselor also serves primary schools when problems like this are just being created. And like Ifill said, when the children are under 14 and the problem could be more serious, they are referred to the professional social workers of the Human Services department.
While it could be argued that what is needed is funding for extra-curricular activities like sports and the arts, Ifill made a case that showed that the ministry has mechanisms in place to help parents to get professional help for their problem children free of charge and the ministry encourages parents to take advantage of those facilities. That would address the problem of promiscuity among young people.
But what about the technology? It seems unreasonable to deprive St Lucian youth of technology in order to prevent them from injuring their own reputations on the internet.
“We have to find a way to get children to use the internet in a more constructive way,” Ifill said of a problem the island has not even begun to address in a structured, concerted form. It is a problem that should generate much debate before any policy-directed answers emerge.
But one thing everyone should keep in mind is this: It is illegal to distribute pornographic materials and even more serious to distribute materials depicting the sex acts involving minors.
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