Context of Child Abuse and Neglect in the Commonwealth of Dominica
National and regional reports note that parenting practices and adult-child relations could benefit from a societal approach that targets harmful gender and cultural norms and practices that contribute to an environment of child abuse and neglect[i]  UNICEF cites the need to tackle the high tolerance for sexual abuse of minors in some Caribbean islands including Dominica –which is a global challenge as well. Between 2010 and 2017, statistics in Dominica indicate that 1024 cases of child sexual abuse were reported on an island with a population of just over 73,000 people. Moreover, sexual abuse cases made up the majority of criminal cases against children in the Dominica courts this year.
In 2012, an internal ChildFund study into the Violence Against Children in Dominica found that the most common form of violence experienced by children is emotional violence within the school environment with the majority of this being inflicted by teachers and followed by corporal punishment. The second issue raised was sexual abuse experienced mainly in the home and community setting.
The United Nations also raised concerns around condoned corporal punishment in schools and has persistently recommended that Dominica remove all sections of legislation, including in the Education Act, that sanctions adults to use corporal punishment at home or in the school. Spankings and canings are still enforced within the school system at all levels and in one recently visited Caribbean island, this was observed even at the College level.
Brief history of the CAP program and Child Abuse and Neglect in Dominica
Childfund Caribbean partnered with the East Dominica Children Federation Inc. (East Federation) to start a CAP project in 2015. The training of teachers, adults, parents, and children creates a community cadre of people who are sensitized to child abuse and protection concerns and have basic skills in communicating these and knowledge in reporting cases. In an environment of difficult access, major environmental disruption with hurricanes, and limited local government response, these community cadres are a critical first point of response to issues of child abuse and protection.
The East Federation is basically the leading local non-Government organization with a mandate to address child protection issues on the island. As a result of CAP parenting meetings, new initiatives are taking place. Parents are being introduced to alternate discipline and community awareness programs using local people and youth have been introduced.
Families from these communities experience persistent hurdles related to unemployment and underemployment, such as overcrowded living conditions, domestic violence, drug abuse, illiteracy, conflict with the law, and poor nutrition and a multi-generational cycle of poverty. As a result, children and youth from these communities are faced with many challenges and experiences that sometimes are a precursor to them becoming a part of the cycle of abuse.
Families and children are often afflicted by neglect, incest and other types of sexual violations, physical abuse, exposure to drugs, theft and other maladaptive behaviours and conditions. Many of these families, with households that typically have between 4 and 10 members, are recipients of monthly public assistance. Future studies might focus on the cultural context to understand the perception of child abuse and protection and the gender dynamics to support effective solutions within the local context. Risks for child protection seem to increase with alcohol, drug use, high unemployment and economic insecurity. Given the difficult outreach conditions and the subsequent weak response and support, community-based interventions must be strengthened through providing appropriate training and human resources for outreach.
Child Friendly Schools is UNICEF’s educational model aimed at helping schools achieve safe, healthy and protective environments that meet the specific needs of their children. The Child Friendly Schools intervention by Dominica’s government and other partners has been changing the environment to support child protection, but much more needs to be done in this area. This model was introduced in 2014, but it has been difficult to maintain without proper monitoring and support. Elements of the model are still incorporated, particularly the inclusion and participation of children in school governance (student councils with student officers). These Student Councils identify and advocate for change around significant issues. CAP represents a new and innovative approach to provide quality support and interventions within these communities and to complement support for Child Friendly Schools. The Child Friendly Schools intervention by government and other partners has been changing the environment to support child protection, but much more needs to be done in this area. Children from vulnerable communities often experience abuse in the school setting. Teachers are also trained in the CAP program (including behavior modification advocated by Child Friendly Schools) ethical behavior, alternate discipline, and respect for students’ rights and inclusion of students. We have seen the effectiveness of this approach. The Ministry of Education is supportive, however the funding that is required to maintain and grow the program is not consistent.
The CAP Program in Dominica
Considering these facts, the CAP project has proven that it can make a significant difference if it continues to touch the lives and conscience of the populace to change the way women and children are perceived and supported.
The East Federation would like to respond to the environment of child abuse by providing broad scale sustainable interventions on the island. Given our relationships with like-minded organizations across the Caribbean, and the child protection situation, we would further like to expand the concept for implementation across the Caribbean. Investment in Teen CAP is very important as it will serve as a reinforcement for young people and contribute to the sustainability of our work both in numbers, and in engaging a critical group in outreach. Continuing the implementation of the Elementary CAP is also necessary in the future.
This project provides opportunities for young people to contribute to their communities to learn about child protection issues. Most of our facilitators are volunteers and work when we need them. This poses a problem in retention of trained resources as sometimes our facilitators must attend to regular paid jobs and are not available. Constant training of facilitators is required. The program has not been supported by any local funders; it has only received funding through grants.
The Federation is supported by the Ministry of Education through granting access to the school and teachers. The Child Protective Services are also informed about the Dominica CAP program and we continue to work with them to raise awareness and build relationships with the Welfare division.
Success and remaining challenges:
The dedication of our core staff and support from the Ministry of Education have been critical to our operations here in Dominica. To date, we have delivered CAP trainings in over 70%of the primary schools on the island. Over five hundred teachers and over a thousand parents have been trained in CAP. Previously, during a school year we could reach over 4,000 children through classroom workshops. We have funded the program through grant funding and collaboration, though recently our funds have been limited, hampering our ability to deliver the CAP Program. This funding shortfall also necessitates our dependence on volunteer facilitators. We keep in touch with them and give them additional training to maintain their level of commitment to CAP, but must respect their wage-earning work. We are searching for grant funders and individuals to support our work.
Stories of impact
As a result of CAP, a parenting program was developed to teach conscious discipline. It demonstrates how parents can stop and think before they use corporal punishment. Parents find this challenging but are building an understanding of why it is necessary. In these communities some parents are choosing the alternative to corporal punishment and are sharing how this enables them to improve their relationships with their children.
A number of children who were abused and who were exposed to CAP have followed the program guidelines, found their trusted adults and were able to say something and get help. For example, a child was not believed when she told several adults that she was being sexually abused by her father. The adults did not believe that father would engage in this kind of activity. She suffered for two years when finally someone listened and she later commented, “ they [the CAP facilitators] said to continue to tell an adult until something is done.” The authorities are now on the case.
We have seen school personnel and systems shift their attitude and practices through on-going relationships with our CAP program. One school where we have implemented CAP told said that they have stopped the practice of corporal punishment all together. The Ministry of Education has directed schools to refrain from corporal punishment but as of of 2020, the Education Act has not been amended to stop corporal punishment. Despite parental pressure, the Education Act (Article 49) condones corporal punishment by school directors or designated teachers. 
What’s needed now to grow
There is no question that the CAP methodology can have an important impact in Dominica to address the issue of child abuse. Additional funding will help us conduct training for trainers and facilitators. It is also important to have materials for training and posters to raise visibility of the program. Most of these materials need to be imported from the US which increases their costs.
Our vision of success is that all children and communities in Dominica have received some form of CAP, but most importantly that there is a reinforcement program that schools can use to constantly remind the children of the concepts and equip adults to support them, and we see child abuse cases reduce. The information and experience gained through CAP would help to change the policies and laws as they relate to child protection issues in Dominica, and potentially extending across the Caribbean.
1. School Corporal Punishment in Global Perspective: Prevalence, Outcomes, and Efforts at Intervention, 2018. This article highlights the 69 countries worldwide, including the US and Dominica, where corporal punishment in schools is still legal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5560991/
2. Dominica: Elimination of Corporal Punishment in Schools? March 2016. This news article recounts the campaign to eliminate corporal punishment in schools in Dominica.
3. Dominica | Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. Last Updated December 2019. This report includes the recommendations from the Committee on the Rights of the child citing their ‘deep concern at the wide use of corporal punishment in the State’ and references the education act.
4. Education Act 1997 (Article 49)
- In the enforcement of discipline in public schools, assisted private schools and private schools degrading or injurious punishment shall not be administered.
- Corporal punishment may be administered where no other punishment is considered suitable or effective, and only by the principal, deputy principal or any teacher appointed in writing by the principal for that purpose, in a manner which is in conformity with the guidelines issued in writing by the Chief Education Officer.
- Whenever corporal punishment is administered an entry shall be made in a punishment book that shall be kept in each school for such purpose with a statement of the nature and extent of the punishment and the reasons for administering it.
- A person other than those mentioned in subsection (2) who administers corporal punishment to a child on the school premises is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of one thousand dollars.
 Dominica Social Welfare Division