(published in Amandala October 2, 1011)
by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

As the nation mourned the passing of the man who dared to have a vision and see it through to fruition, there was another form of national pain to deal with. Mr. Price as many still call him lived to the ripe age of 92 and admirably until he got ill, he walked around downtown Belize City and it would be no surprise to see him dropping off or picking up some kids at Holy Redeemer Primary School where in his own right he too became a fixture.

Like all of us, he was not perfect and many can speak about their differences in opinion and style with the man, but I will focus on that which cannot be disputed. He dedicated his life to service and through it all did it in a simplistic, non-violent way. I am sure he had his own form of wealth, but he never focused on expensive suits, name-brand watch, extravagant vehicles, nor a sea-front mansion. I guess it was his desire to have been in the priesthood that made him realize he need not be in the order to commit to a simplistic, God-fearing life.

We knew he was getting old and that his creator would some day call him home, but of course that still does not ease the pain of his loss especially to those closest to him. Many who mourn his passing may be relatives, but I know a few older folks who grew up in his era and feel great affinity for him and what he symbolized to them during Belize’s struggle. Of course this is an era many of our younger generation do not know about and because as a people we have not done our best to record our history it can potentially be lost. Contribution of great men such as Phillip S.W. Goldson, and George Cadle Price should be so well documented and recorded for our people because it is the foundation upon which our Belize as a new nation was built.

My sincerest condolence to the closely knit biological family of Rt. Honorable George Cadle Price and especially to the People’s United Party, the family he truly birthed and fathered. I know words cannot ease the pain for the loss, but I do pray his passing helps us as a nation to reflect on where we are going as a people and thus serves as a catalyst to unite us under a common good cause at a time when our struggles are dividing us.

...loss of a son…another clinging to life

On the 21st day of September, 2011, a special and historic day for Rt. Hon. George Cadle Price, as we celebrated our nationhood - 30 years of political independence, the rythms of festivity were abruptly shattered by the deafening bangs of bullets on Victoria Street – the parade had just passed and the child had no idea he had just seen his last 21st day parade ever. Sad, Sad day for 9 year old Joshua Abraham and all his loves ones he left behind mourning.

I do not know the family and I do not know the child – but I do know that if I could feel the pain being so distant from them, I could only image the pain and agony of a mother to lose a child. A future leader of our country just had his life snuffed out of him by the one reckless act of another. Ruthless, cold and callous, but not surprisingly it is the act at the hands of still young men of our nation. Young men who believe that our problems can be solved by violence and a bullet loaded gun. I know nothing I say can ease the pain but to keep quiet is to participate in the wanton killing of our children.

But maybe the true irony of the situation is that just about an hour ago on the steps of the National Assembly in Belmopan PM Barrow proudly announced ” A truce was agreed. It was a history breakthrough, and I am happy to tell you that there has been no gang-related murder since." It was as if to retaliate against the PM and send him a message, the festive mood on Victoria Street was violently disrupted.

In his wisdom the PM has sought to respond to our “gangs” by paying them the respect of a meeting like any civilized person would and while silently we all prayed it would be successful, I am not surprised at the outright disregard for the promise made to our country’s PM. I am not surprised because we are talking about two different rules being applied her. The law, his office and his profession mandates that the PM conduct himself in a legal and above-board fashion and that violence be his last resort to solve any problem.

But for the “gangs” the rules are contrary, a “gangster’s” position in life, “profession” and street commando tactics dictates that it is very much in order for them to conduct themselves contrary to the laws of this land and all they do is with a view of offending our laws. The mere existence of “gangs” as we know it is an illegal activity and their activities are illegal in nature and it is in their street ethos for them to kill, rob and destroy as a means to get their results. That is why when the US say “we do not negotiate with terrorist” it is one principle I have to agree with. Then to make matters worst now Justin Teck clings to life… motive for his murder still not yet established… but no matter what is the motive it does not change the fact that yet another family is suffering and another mother is in pain. The truce is called off by these acts and not a meeting similar to the one that introduced it.

...even our daughters are not safe

It seems that we are creating a nation of weeping mothers….as bearers and care-givers of our children, it is in our nature to feel the pain for our children that only a mother can feel. This does not mean our fathers and men do not care, its simple designed that we were created differently and respond by our nature differently to this matter of nature and nurture Also simply put, studies and statistic show that the main cause of the world’s problems are created by MEN. Now I am not male-bashing but because of how society evolved with the dominance of men, they control power and so everything else flows from that and the gang violence is all about establishing power and dominace. Like government.

There are already countless mothers weeping at the loss of their children, mostly sons, now even for our daughters we weeps as the cases of sexual offences against them increase. However, I believe the recent report of sexual assault against a four-year old girl has gripped this nation. Sadly, these incidents are not new… they have been occurring for a while – just that in many instances efforts are made not to make them public at all because of the nature of the allegations. Worst yet, in some instances the family opt not to report the incidents because of the shame they believe it brings on them. But in recent times I find the age of the victims decreasing and this saddens me even more.

While I worked as a prosecutor at the DPP’s office I had to deal head on with these types of cases and worked with the victims closely. One of these cases stayed with me, because like this recent incident the child was only two going to three when the mother’s boyfriend sexually assaulted her. We could never take the case to trial because under our system of law, the child was too young to testify and even if she could testify it would not be under oath because she would be too young to understand the importance of telling the truth. So in these instances the culprits get away scotch free.

Sadly, the investigation is so poorly done that the case cannot be successfully prosecuted without good evidence from the child. These, problems however can be resolved but we never seem to find the leaders with the political will to change the law where it matters the most. Our children are the most vulnerable, yet the standard to prove offences against them are the most lenient. So under our current system the accused will always get away because the child will never be old enough to testify. Then, there is the dragging of our feet on collecting and preserving DNA evidence. You see, if the DNA evidence is properly collected, stored and secured even decades after we can still prosecute these accused perpetrators.

So it does not matter that we do no have the DNA capacity now, though I would prefer we get it ASAP, those cold cases can always be reopened, investigated and prosecuted. Sadly we have never had a proper evidence room that allows for the proper storage of these types of evidence. We do not even have a cold-case unit seeking to solve old cases because we cannot even prosecute the recent ones.

…the penalties are paltry

Then the insult is even worst by the fact that when sexual offences against minors are successful prosecuted the penalty is so darn lame, that a culprit can keep on repeating these offences in his lifetime and serve time and get out still young enough to do it again. Our laws says not less than 8 years for sexual offences – it could be up to life imprisonment – but sadly the men who sit on the bench and pass sentence are always lenient and the bare minimum sentence is usually handed down. I say let us change these laws.

Why don’t we see that sexual offences against our women is worst than murder… it is their slow death and destroys so much in them. To be able to deter this crime we need to put in motion far more stringent mandatory penalties like automatic life imprisonment upon first conviction and repeat offenders get the death penalty. But the rules of evidence need to be changed to give more weight to the testimony of a child and even how police threat these types of cases must change.

But as one blogger did say ‘no child will just make up these accusations’ – to that I must agree. And if no one in whose care she was is to be charged then who will explain how come she is injured? In addition I believe that we need to institute a system where persons who collect children under the ages 12 from school must sign a register recording that they collected the child. This may seem like not much but this is how we start to collect circumstantial evidence that can help an investigation. However, it helps to protect the school while at the same time gives account of who has charge of the child after school hours. As this case stands – the accused could easily go to court to say that the child was handed over to him like that at the school, but with the register system, he would have signed to say he got the child in good condition and would have the option to write down any complaints or observation upon getting the child. It is not all that is needed but it is a start.

I will end with a note of caution: there is a belief amongst men that if they have contracted any sexually transmitted disease, it can be cured by having sexual intercourse with a virgin, as their purity will heal them. With the rise in HIV/AIDS the incidents of sexual abuse of girl children also increased. But the truth is that there is not such cure. However, as men get desperate they try anything to rid themselves of these diseases. As young girls become sexually active at a very young age, men seek out even younger age groups and thus the two to seven age group has become even more high risk.

Let us talk to our children about sex and these things openly – they are never too young to learn about these depravities. And as mothers let us all each resolve to put in place our own security measures to shield our daughters from these monsters…in our own families.

I know there is nothing I can say to ease the pain of this child and mother – but we can all pray for our nation and especially for the protection of our children and special prayers for this child whose whole life here has been so terribly affected. But let’s not forget that Oprah Winfrey was a victim of sexual abuse and she found a way to overcome it. We pray this child too will overcome it and use this dark period in her life to help others. With God all things are possible!