Report highlights risky sexual behaviour among young children

THERE is a prevalence of risky sexual practices among children who work, hustle, or live on the island’s streets, with boys being propositioned by men for sex, and some girls seeing prostitution as a means of survival, insisting that they are unaffected emotionally.

The issues are highlighted in the final report of a study undertaken by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) of children living and working on the island’s streets. The report was tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday.“Some girls are involved in prostitution and/or beg for a living. In select communities in Kingston and St Andrew, prostitution appears to be learnt/observed behaviour. There is the tendency to consider this a rational response to poverty; therefore, one’s body is a ‘good’ that can be bartered for an income; at least in conversation, the girls or women involved explain that prostitution does not affect them internally,” the CPFSA said.According to the agency, boys traverse the streets in particular areas and are involved in homosexual and bisexual relationships. It said there are reports that children are involved in prostitution, particularly in Kingston and St Andrew, St James, St Ann, St Mary and Westmoreland.The CPFSA noted that some children say they participate in violent activities, and that the actual numbers are likely to be higher than the survey findings.The survey involved 373 children across the parishes of Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, Clarendon, Westmoreland, St James, St Ann, St Mary, and St Thomas, 63 per cent (230) of whom were males.The CPFSA said a higher proportion of males to females was anticipated, but the 37 per cent was still critical as “it is normally assumed that girls do not work or hustle on the streets”.

The highest proportion of children surveyed were 12 and 13 years old, with the 12 year olds comprising 15.72 per cent of the overall sample, and the 13 year olds 14.63 per cent. It noted that 38 10-year-olds were interviewed, as well as children between 15 and 17 years, which made up 28 of the sample. Children between five and nine years accounted for 10 per cent of the numbers.

The survey was conducted to determine the factors which predispose children to be living and working on the streets, and to identify gaps in the provision of care and social protection services that impede an effective response to addressing street children.

The CPFSA pointed out that poverty is the most obvious root cause for child labour on the streets, but said the research revealed a wider range of factors that cause poverty such as family break-ups and dislocation, gaps in education, learning challenges, peer pressure, and a growing hustling culture. The agency also noted the inadequacy of safety net provisions; power relations and dynamics that produce mindsets that cannot be solved by behaviour change programmes.The majority of respondents hustle, work, or beg on the streets in the daytime only, but about a quarter are on the streets in both the day and night. Of those who hustle during the daytime, over 57 per cent do so after school.Some of the activities across communities include children living off waste disposal dumps in Kingston and St Andrew, and St James; selling snacks, ground provisions and newspapers, with over a quarter wiping windscreens, and a smaller proportion hustling in night clubs and at parties. There are also children engaged in activities within fishing villages in St Catherine and Clarendon. Only a small proportion of those interviewed actually sleep on the streets (18) as the vast majority, return home.The CPFSA noted that children were largely hesitant to acknowledge that they “work”, but agreed that their activities could be considered “hustling”.

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