Saint HelenaSaint Helena is a small tropical island in the southern Atlantic Ocean and remains one of the few countries that is part of the British Overseas Territories. Saint Helena has been a part of the British territories for many years, far from the mainland in its remote locale. Though the island is isolated, there is a question as to the current issue of human rights in Saint Helena. Recently, Saint Helena has been under scrutiny for possible child abuse on its shores.

In 2014, the Daily Mail published a series of three articles about the “culture of sexual abuse of children” in Saint Helena. Needless to say, these articles shocked the public. The articles detailed the brutality of the abuses. More importantly, the articles suggested that authorities needed to review the policing occurring on the island.

The articles criticized the authorities in great detail, particularly the Foreign Commonwealth Office, the local Government of Saint Helena and the Department for International Development. Other coincidental occurrences suggest that there is child abuse ongoing on the island as well, creating a grave concern for human rights in Saint Helena.

Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama are social workers from Britain who worked with Saint Helena residents. Gannon and Warsama reported the occurrence of rampant child abuse; later, both alleged they were threatened and forced to leave the island in retaliation for reporting such abuse.

After denying these accusations of abuse to the U.N., the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) of Britain drafted a report in which it noted that child abuse was indeed a plague on the island. The report alleged that police officers assaulted a four-year old girl and mutilated a two-year old toddler. The FCO apologized for its “erroneous” original report. Gannon and Warsama were furious. In return, the social workers sued the FCO and the United Kingdom Department for International Development.

The FCO was faced with public outcry. As a result, it commissioned a report by a children’s charity, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. The Foundation kept its report confidential. However, the contents were leaked to a website the social workers had created to help drum up support for their lawsuit. The report noted that there was a culture on the island of abusing teenage girls through “violent and brutal attacks.”

The two different reports generated by the FCO indicate that there is, at a minimum, some ongoing child abuse in a social pattern on the island. One of the reasons such abuse could potentially be taking place is because of the small population: there are just over 4,000 permanent residents of the island. It is well-established that abusers often become close to their victims.

The government of Saint Helena has been taking an active legislative and political interest in the welfare of children as a whole. Beginning in 2010, the Welfare of Children Regulations has been shaping the Safeguarding Children’s and Young People’s Board. To avoid undue political influence as much as possible, the Board is chaired independently, though it does report to the Governor of Saint Helena. Other members of the Board include those who work with children regularly: representatives from the different sectors of health, social services, education and nongovernmental organizations.

The Board is a sincere effort from the government to protect children’s interests; it meets every six weeks and when there is an urgent matter. The Board also strives to harmonize different elements of the government, so that various agencies can work for the betterment of children’s interests.

Saint Helena is a closed-off island. Besides being well-known for being Napoleon’s home during his last years, the island is generally not in the news. Still, different stories detailing possible child abuse yield concerns about the status of human rights in Saint Helena. The government’s efforts to restore these rights serve as an encouraging step forward in the fight to end child abuse.

Smriti Krishnan

Photo: Flickr