With our children, NO! / Yoani Sanchez

Canadian James McTurk convicted of child abuse in Cuba. Photo: The Star.

Just three weeks ago several of us Cuban activists visited Stockholm to participate in the Internet Freedom Forum. The highlights of our stay there were not only during the sessions of the technology event, but also throughout the program of parallel activities. It was extremely interesting to visit ECPAT, an NGO that focuses on the fight against pornography, prostitution and child trafficking. As often happens, the explanation of its work led us to reflect on the impact of such reprehensible incidents on the Cuban reality as well. The first thing that caught my eye was the absence of an entity or NGO that is dedicated specifically to that topic on the island, at least as far as the public knows, but there is no doubt that before the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations some official group has designated itself advocate for victims of sexual predators.

If the wall of the Malecón could speak… it would tell us of all those young people between 16 and 18 who offer their bodies to tourists for a few dollars. Although there are even more children in the meat trade, it is at that age that the lack of legal protection is total, because under the law prevailing in Cuba they are considered adults. As a result, they are left out of any statistics and, in consequence, of any prevention and protection program offered by international agencies such as UNICEF. Cases of forced teen sex by stepfathers, uncles, older siblings or close relatives abound in Cuban towns. A girl of twelve, thirteen or fourteen pregnant by an adult, is perceived as common especially in rural areas of the country. Not to mention that carnal relations between teachers and students in junior and senior high schools have become a normal part of our existence.

Recently the Canadian James McTurk was convicted in Toronto for several sexual offenses against children in Cuba, including some as young as three. The story has not been published in the national media, but the predator was in our country 31 times between 2009 and 2012. It’s not credible that immigration authorities so skilled in detecting whether Cubans can enter their own country, and customs officials trained to find a laptop or a mobile phone on luggage, didn’t realized that something was wrong with that man. It is also sad that, given this is one of the evils that afflict our society, a group of alarmed parents is not even allowed to form a group of citizens to denounce pedophiles and to support solidarity for the victims of these criminals. Amid so many social issues that are touching the emerging civil society of this island, such as the dual currency, low wages, and the need for political and party reform, it is also urgent to tackle such a sensitive problem. We must say to all these foreign and domestic abusers, “With our children, NO!”

16 June 2013